In this post, the first of four on how to use a multigenerational workforce as a training resource, we focus on the workforce’s most rapidly growing demographic: workers age 65 and 74.

While retirement was once a viable dream for many Americans, today, a growing number of people, either by choice or circumstance, are not only working until 65 but well beyond 65. In its biannual projection of the future workforce, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that by 2022, 31.9% of people ages 65 to 74 will be working. In 2002, only 20.4% of 65- to 74-year-olds were in the workforce. Reasons for continuing to work are diverse but often rest on one or more of the following factors:

• Inadequate retirement savings: The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates that more than half of US households have failed to save enough for retirement to maintain their current lifestyle. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that up to 83% of Boomer and Generation X age adults, in the lowest quarter of reported incomes, have not saved enough for retirement.

• High cost of living: In some regions of the country, retirement is a pipe-dream due to the high cost of living (a problem even for those who have paid off their mortgage). In New York, for example, older people who are lucky enough to own their own apartments often pay anywhere from $1500 to over $4000 per month in taxes and common fees. This means that owners, alongside most renters, need at least $18000 to $48,000 per year to cover their housing cost (often much more). Unfortunately, few retirement funds are structured to take the high cost of living in cities, like New York, into account. This means that even older workers who have saved for their retirement, often continue to work well beyond 65.

• Fear of retirement: While some people dream of retirement, many people in their 60s and 70s fear retirement. While the reasons vary, social isolation is frequently cited as a factor.

• Desire to continue contributing to society: While some physically demanding professions make it difficult to work after 65, others do not. Many lawyers, doctors and professors, for example, make their most notable professional contributions later in their careers (consider the average age of a supreme court judge). Today, however, a growing number of people across professions are working longer than ever before.

The Multigenerational Workforce: Part I

Older Workers As a Training Resource

Soft skills, such as collaboration and communication, are often seen to grow with experience and age. As a result, while some older workers may struggle to keep up with certain skills (e.g., adapting to a retailer’s new CRM software), what they lack in software savvy, they make up for in soft skills. This is partially due to the fact that older workers came of age in an era when face-to-face or telephone communication were the primary modes of doing business. From a training perspective, this can be a great resource. So too, however, can older workers’ deep knowledge of their fields. Consider, for example, the following two case studies of companies who are successfully tapping into older workers’ knowledge and soft skills and as a consequence also supporting training and mentorship programs.

CVS Pharmacies: CVS has developed a snowbird program, which enables older staff at pharmacies in northern states to spend the winter months working at pharmacies in Florida and other southern states. The program has helped CVS retain older workers, including many of its pharmacists. The program has also helped the company deal with the seasonal surges in business they experience in winter retirement communities (e.g., Key West and Palm Springs). Finally, the program provides an opportunity for the company to place experienced older workers in stores with younger workers who require additional training and mentorship.

Home Depot: Home Depot is well known for actively recruiting older workers as sales staff. In this case, the training benefit is twofold. First, as anyone who has gone to a Home Depot already knows, buying hardware supplies and tools often means asking a lot questions. In many respects, sales staff do more than sell products—they also train customers to use these products. To accomplish this dual task (sales and education), the company recruits older workers—often retired contactors who spent decades working as plumbers, electricians and builders—to field customer queries on the floor. In turn, these seasoned older workers also help to train and mentor younger sales staff, including student workers, who often join the company with very little knowledge of the products they are selling.