US economy's hidden asset: older workers
Far from being a drag on the economy, so-called gray labor will be key to America's competitiveness in coming years. Mature workers can bring major productivity gains to US businesses – if we can make changes to better tap their talent.
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Are we doing all we can to cultivate entrepreneurship? The numbers of aging unemployed-cum-entrepreneurs are soaring. Baby boomers lead the way as some of the most successful entrepreneurs. For the past 15 years, people 55-to-64 have eclipsed the rate of entrepreneurial activity among their younger counterparts – 20- to 30-somethings. And post-50 year-olds have started up twice as many technology firms as the under 25-year-old upstarts.Skip to next paragraph
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How do we maximize what gives these grayer entrepreneurs the edge – their accumulated experience, wisdom, and business relationships? As a group suffering longer-term unemployment, mature workers relish the chance to determine their own destiny. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides loans to entrepreneurs. But even micro-finance would make a mark on older Americans with marketable skills. Some workers may benefit from entrepreneurship training; others might just need a small amount of seed capital and some tax relief. And it will take more than an SBA program to unleash this human potential. We need to get creative to maximize opportunities, such as offering tax incentives to entice big businesses to include mature entrepreneurs in their supplier network.
Who will catch the older unemployed as they fall from their safe perches? How can we ensure that employment assistance programs are equipped to do the job? The biggest official approach to joblessness, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), doesn’t encourage the public workforce system to serve mature job seekers. On the contrary, the regulations actually penalize workforce agencies for accommodating older jobseeker’s needs or preferences, like placing older workers in part-time jobs instead of full-time jobs that are currently one of the “measurements” of workforce agency success.
Major productivity gains
The US Department of Health and Human Services says today’s are the healthiest seniors in the nation’s history. Their knowledge transfer, efficiencies, and “lead by example” approach in the workplace add up to major productivity gains that US businesses can count on – if they tap into mature talent.
Debunking the myths about older Americans means embracing the reality that mature workers are assets that a competitive US economy can hardly afford to squander.
Amy Kaslow is a senior fellow and director of the Workforce and Economy at the Washington-based Council on Competitiveness, whose membership includes CEOs of top US companies, presidents of leading-edge research universities, and heads of major labor unions. Pam Tate is president and CEO of the Chicago-based Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), a national nonprofit that facilitates workforce education and training programs among educational institutions, business, labor and government.