Central Washington Works: Older workers provide value to employers | Local

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The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or ADEA, is a federal law that protects workers and job applicants age 40 and older from age-based discrimination in all aspects of employment.

Forty. Think about that for a minute. If you’re over 40, you are considered an “older” worker.

The majority of the current workforce is older or soon will be. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Population Projections, “By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than age 65. One in every 5 residents will be retirement age.”

So, what do older workers — no, make that experienced workers — bring to the workforce? Besides the obvious ample real life work experience and skills, an experienced worker brings a great many invaluable people skills (sometimes called soft skills) that are not always found in younger workers:

  • Time management and punctuality. Experienced workers are accustomed to getting up early and going to work. Few have had the luxury of telecommuting. Most have always known a traditional 8-hour work day starting bright and early each morning.
  • Communication skills, verbal and written. Knowing when and how to speak comes through years of practice and office politics. Plus, they have phone etiquette and understand that emails are written office memos. As such they require full sentences, punctuation, and proper spelling — not emojis.
  • Listening skills. Experienced workers pay full attention to what is being said to them. They put their cellphones down.
  • Confidence. Experienced workers already know what they’re good at. Employers don’t need to pat them on the back and offer positive reinforcement. This confidence can help them mentor younger employees.
  • Dedication. They are not aggressively seeking to advance their career; they may be perfectly comfortable in the role they land for years longer than younger staff. They are not job-hoppers. They know turnover is expensive for any company.
  • Flexibility. Younger workers may have to split their time between work and family. Many experienced workers are no longer raising school-age children. They don’t have to take Dick or Jane to baseball practice. They can work the weekend to finish a project.
  • Technology. Though experienced workers may not consider themselves “digital natives” as younger workers do, they have been exposed to many years of technical change in the workplace (typewriters to computers). This adaptability is important and valuable in today’s workplace, where change is continuous.

As one former hiring manager put it, “I found that experienced workers were an asset. They already had the experience and wisdom that comes from years in the workforce. They know the importance of showing up on time, delivering good customer service, and using critical thinking skills. If they were missing a few technical skills, I could easily train them. It is much more time-consuming to train the soft skills and common sense.”

Experienced workers can help businesses maintain a reliable, dedicated workforce and provide a significant cost savings for both the short and long term.

Michelle Smith is an employer engagement analyst for the South Central Workforce Development Council in Yakima.

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