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How to Make Baby Boomers Your Secret Weapon in the War for Talent

The skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce are changing more rapidly than university curricula can teach them. Some even doubt that the university system can deliver the skills required for an increasingly technology-driven market.

For this reason, the youngest part of the workforce — millennials and Generation Z — are often the focus of HR teams trying to get a jump on the future labor market. Adding to the complexity is the fact that 65 percent of today’s students will eventually be employed in jobs that don’t yet exist, according to research by the U.S. Department of Labor.

But as exciting and complex as the future of work will be, you still need the job done today. The good news is that many Baby Boomers are quite happy to keep working. Whether it be for the income they need or to be fulfilled by challenging work, a significant portion of retirement-age folks are choosing to remain in the workforce.

Baby Boomers and the Skills Gap

The gig economy is not just for the younger generations, with their handheld devices and dependence on the digital ecosystem. Take a look at the typical Uber driver or the person delivering your groceries, and you’ll find that gig work is lucrative for people of all ages.

Baby Boomers, in particular, are boosting their regular income and retirement savings thanks to the gig economy. According to Uber, they make up 24 percent of the ride-sharing giant’s workforce.

Baby Boomers looking for supplemental income are often willing to continue working if they’re offered flexible schedules. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a significant portion of those reaching retirement age are choosing to remain in the workforce.Twenty-six percent of workers plan to work until age 70, and another 6 percent say they will never want to retire.

Skilled gig work lends itself to the talented, experienced worker who brings value to a job in a small amount of time; for example, a financial consultant who delivers niche advisory services on a job-by-job basis.

For skilled Baby Boomers, that can mean higher compensation per hour, their regular pension from their past employer, and a work schedule they can control. For employers, there is access to the talent and tacit knowledge they desperately need, which can be difficult to find in a younger workforce. Better still, hiring contingent Boomers instead of full-time employees can steeply cut costs in areas like benefits and overhead.

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How to Hire Boomers and Keep Them Around

To keep these more mature workers busy and fulfilled, some employers are offering flexible schedules, reduced workweeks, or consulting. Here are five more strategies to help employers and recruiters hire and retain Boomers:

  1. Respect their opinions. Baby Boomers have been quick to adopt the technology used in today’s gig economy despite their rumored ineptitude. As you would with your techies, listen to their feedback, and entertain the possibility that your tools might be less than cutting-edge, after all. We still deliver services over the phone for a large portion of our employees, an anathema to most millennials. But for some workers, speaking to a live person gets the job done better than using our app or online portal. Make sure you don’t jump too far ahead with technology trends if all your workforce isn’t ready to go there.
  2. Pay to play. The cost of a gig worker is less than a regular full-time employee because you save on incidental expenses such as healthcare and office space. Remember that you are getting the niche skills of a specialized worker, however, so hourly rates will be higher. For example, a trucking company we work with hires retired drivers at higher pay rates to test equipment. These drivers know their worth and appreciate being treated fairly in terms of compensation. They might only work a few hours per week, but being paid a fair wage means they’re happy to contribute their skills.
  3. Design gigs on their terms. Baby Boomer gig workers are in it for the flexibility. I recently spoke to a gig worker who had worked in trucking for years but finally stopped when his grandson was born. He now makes less money overall and works fewer hours, but he is able to pick up his grandson from school every day. Enable your gig workforce to live full lives that balance work and home, and you’ll be attractive to the very best of the Baby Boomers looking for gig work.
  4. Put them to work on the toughest problems. Baby Boomers aren’t cheap labor sources; they’re experts. As you begin to warm up to the idea that you should be incorporating retirement-age workers into your overall workforce, make sure you don’t confuse a desire to work with a desire to perform your least desirable jobs. Baby Boomers have paid their dues already. With years of experience and massive amounts of knowledge, they want to work on the most important problems your company is facing.
  5. Have them mentor your workforce. Baby Boomers want to add value wherever they can, and that includes mentoring the younger workforce. Older workers delight in passing on their wisdom, and younger workers appreciate sage advice. Rather than siloing your assets, structure your workforce so that your expert Baby Boomer gig workers interact with your millennial and Gen Z employees in meaningful ways. Invest resources and add hours so your gig workers can maximize their value to tomorrow’s workforce.

Just because a skills shortage might be plaguing your industry doesn’t mean you have to employ less-than-knowledgeable candidates. Baby Boomers are eager to keep working and pass on their expertise. Don’t miss out on the opportunity they offer.

Trevor Foster

Trevor Foster is the vice president of finance and innovation at Innovative Employee Solutions, a leading nationwide employer of record that specializes in human relations and payroll services. Founded in 1974 in San Diego, IES has grown into one of the city’s largest women-owned businesses and been named one of its “Best Places to Work” for 10 years in a row.

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