The Graying Labor Pool

by Peg Bogema

For as long as I have been paying attention to the news, I’ve been hearing about a projected Baby Boomer retirement crisis.

Which crisis? It depends on your point of view.

  • Imbalance between funds going into the Social Security “trust fund” and funds coming out
  • Strain on our healthcare resources
  • High rates of poverty among retirees due to inadequate savings

But viewed today, maybe the real Baby Boomer retirement crisis is the sheer number of people leaving the workforce. Almost anyone who has made an effort to fill openings recently can attest to the fact that there simply are not enough applicants.

If you haven’t considered the 65+ year old labor pool as a potential resource to tap into, maybe it’s time to re-think.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the growth of the potential workforce (see image below). Prior to the year 2000, labor force growth in the 65+ category was very small. In the projection for 2020 to 2030, the growth of available workers 65+ will exceed the growth in other categories.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Can employers afford to neglect this fast-growing pool of potential workers?

Here are a few things to consider before you jump wholeheartedly into hiring in the 65+ demographic.

The 65+ Hire’s Comp Plan

Most employers have invested a considerable amount into understanding what attracts younger prospective employees. Competitive Wages. Health insurance that isn’t too costly. Flex time. 401K match. Career growth. Etc.

The 65+ crowd likely will not value the same elements of a compensation package as their younger peers.

For example, the 65+ group tends to place a premium on vacation and flex time—even if time off isn’t compensated. They may even prefer to work fewer than 40 hours per week. Creating roles that are task based—that is to say are organized around tasks that have defined deliverables rather than hours of the day—is one way to accommodate this requirement. Breaking full time roles into part time roles is another.

According to a survey and study published by the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics in 2020:

“We find that older individuals would work longer, especially if schedules were flexible. Based on the SSQs (strategic survey questions), many people would take the option to work fewer hours, even if it involved a more than proportional reduction in earnings. Even those who are long retired have strong willingness to work, especially in a job with a flexible schedule.”

There may be other elements to the ideal comp package for the 65+ hire. Affordable supplemental health insurance, short term disability, long term disability. Talking with prospects will definitely be helpful to understand their motivations and needs.

The 65+ Hire’s Roles and Responsibilities

Another point to consider is that a 65+ employee may prefer to downshift their career. Sure, Terry may have been a manager or leader before—but is that what Terry is looking for today? Sixty hours per week? On call? Many older people I talk with have a been-there-done-that attitude about taking on another high pressure role. They are happy to leave that to someone else. So, yes, Terry would gladly drop back to a role that is lesser.

If a 65+ expresses an interest in a role, the implication is that they will consider it. So, no, it is not insulting to discuss it.

And to answer the elephant in the room question, Terry will gladly take direction from someone who is as much as 40 years younger.

The 65+ Hire’s Upskilling Plan

Most employers anticipate having to train the newest members of the organization.

Adopting the same attitude about the 65+ hires makes a great deal of sense.

The major difference is that the 65+ worker already has a decades-long history of learning new skills, meeting deadlines, completing deliverables as or better than expected, and so forth. The quality of work is likely to be very high given the deep well of knowledge that is brought to bear on getting things done.

One potential benefit is that while 65+ might not know the latest technologies, they may have a thorough understanding of your legacy system. They may be more than willing to work on something that a 20 something might view as a career dead end. No upskilling required!


There is no end in sight to the shortage of workers. Companies that figure out how to hire in the 65+ demographic will substantially increase their pool of available resources. That’s good for companies. And it’s good for the Baby Boomers.

This is a technical/business article catered to developers, hiring/project managers, and other technical staff looking to improve their skills. Sign up to receive our articles in your email inbox.

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