Hank Mann, 63, of Austin, Texas, hasn't thought about retirement. The engineer is too busy diving into murky waters to inspect locks and...
DALLAS — Hank Mann, 63, of Austin, Texas, hasn’t thought about retirement.
The engineer is too busy diving into murky waters to inspect locks and dams for Stanley Consultants.
“I’m having too much fun,” he said. “As long as I’ve got the energy, I’m sticking with this.”
His bosses are glad he feels that way.
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Stanley Consultants, based in Iowa, designs buildings, highways and power plants around the world. It tries to hold on to older employees as long as it can, one-third of its work force is older than 50.
More companies are beginning to think like Stanley Consultants, which tops AARP’s list this year of the 50 best employers for workers older than 50.
These employers are devising flexible working arrangements, offering benefits such as long-term-care insurance and allowing employees to phase into retirement over several years.
“Guys like Hank have a lifetime of engineering know-how,” said Bob Berg, Stanley Consultants’ human-resources manager. “We don’t want that experience walking out the door.”
Lorrie Foster, a research director for the Conference Board, says employers’ attitudes spring from corporate self-interest as much as altruism.
“Sixty-four million boomers are poised to retire over the next decade,” she said. “Depending on what they do, there may not be enough younger workers with the right skills to replace them.”
Some labor analysts are predicting a shortage of up to 10 million workers by the end of the decade.
“That’s quite a reversal from years of labor surpluses, when employers never had to worry about finding someone to replace the employee who just left,” said Michael Zey, author of “Ageless Society.”
Because businesses have grown accustomed to a labor surplus, most corporate executives haven’t focused on the impending labor shortage and brain drain, Zey said.
Executives who have recognized the problem work in economic sectors such as health care, retail and utilities, where companies are already having trouble hiring enough workers, he said.
In 2001, when AARP published its first list of the top employers of mature workers, it got 14 entries.
This year, it fielded 145 applications, a clear sign to AARP senior research adviser Kathi Brown that more companies want to be acknowledged as good places for workers older than 50.
Companies’ growing awareness of the aging work force recently prompted IBM to begin a consulting service to help businesses cope with the expected loss of knowledge and talent as boomers retire.
“Executives may know this is a looming problem, but they don’t have a good sense of what may be going on with their own organization,” said Eric Lesser, an associate partner with IBM. “We’ll help them understand how vulnerable they are to the boomer exodus and how to manage it.”
Besides coaching employers on ways to keep and attract older workers, IBM will help them learn to pass knowledge from one generation to another and preserve the institutional memory, he said.
AARP also is collaborating with businesses interested in tapping into the mature work force. The organization has signed up 24 “featured employers” committed to recruiting, hiring and retaining older workers.
“Companies are realizing that an aging work force isn’t a burden on health care and pension costs so much as it could be an opportunity to be leveraged,” said Emily Allen, director of the AARP Foundation’s work force initiative.
A million seniors visited the AARP featured employers’ Web site in its first year, checking opportunities with companies such as Borders Group, MetLife, Principal Financial Group and Walgreens.
Bill Corporon, 58, of Dallas used the site to find a part-time job at a Borders bookstore this summer. The Exxon Mobil retiree wanted to supplement his pension and keep busy.
“I’m a freelance writer, so working in a bookstore is a good fit for me,” he said.
Michigan-based Borders enjoys a reputation as an innovator in attracting older workers.
The bookseller studied the demographics of its market and discovered that half of all book buyers are older than 45. It then set out to create a work force that better reflected its customers.
The company provides medical- and dental-insurance benefits to part-time workers and allows employees to work half of the year in one part of the country and the other half in a store in another part of the country.
“The option has become popular with retirees who like to spend their summers up north and their winters down south,” company spokeswoman Beth Bingham said.
Retailers have made some of the most aggressive pitches for mature workers.
Fort Worth, Texas-based RadioShack says it hires older workers because they know how to relate to customers, have a strong work ethic and are role models for younger employees. The retailer advertises on a seniors’ employment Web site, seniors4hire.org.
“Older adults understand what it takes to get the job done,” company spokesman Charles Hodges said.
Yet not all mature workers want to put in long days. They prefer jobs that let them pursue other interests. Their goal is to ratchet back on responsibilities yet stay engaged. Employers are discovering flexible job arrangements are especially appealing to those workers.