“It’s not about age really. We just want talented people,” says a director of PKF O’Connor Davies, a network of independent accounting and advisory firms that hires older workers.
Robert Metoli, 57, spent eight years as a skilled technician setting up the machines on the factory floor at Lee Spring, a small firm based in Brooklyn, New York, that makes coils to be used in a variety of objects, including cellphones, eyeglasses, rockets and robots.
It took a toll. Metoli’s back started bothering him, and his job, which involved standing most of the day and lifting wire, gears and tooling, became impossible for him to do.
“We gave him an opportunity to take an office position that would be less physically strenuous,” said Steve Kempf, the chief executive. “He joined our team of engineers charged with creating the work orders for jobs going out into the factory.” The company arranged and paid for the necessary training courses.
He was immediately able to pass his insights on to the younger engineers, who had never operated the machines, Metoli said, and “the engineers were able to explain their knowledge of spring design and software to me.”
Metoli has continued to work in a position that doesn’t hurt his back, Kempf said.
More than half of American baby boomers plan to work past age 65 or not retire at all, according to a report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Many worry that they will outlive their savings, that Social Security benefits will be reduced and that they may someday need expensive long-term medical care.
Two age groups, 65 to 74 years old and 75 and older, are projected to have faster annual rates of labor force growth than that of any others, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the decade from 2014 to 2024, the labor force growth rate for 65- to 74-year-olds is expected to be about 4.5 percent annually, and about 6.4 percent annually for those 75 and older. One hitch: In some workplaces, negative attitudes pervade about the cost of older workers, their stamina, their technological ability and their enthusiasm for learning new ways of doing things.
A rising number of role-model employers, however, are hiring, retaining and supporting workers over 50. Lee Spring was among 13 businesses and nonprofits based in New York City that recently received Age Smart Employer Awards through the Columbia Aging Center at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Those employers offer training and education opportunities and flexible scheduling; adapt physical tasks to the abilities of workers; provide advancement and leadership training for workers of all ages; retrain older workers; and allow phased retirement.
“We’ve increased our life expectancy by 50 percent in the last 100 years,” said Dr. Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School. “Now we have to design society for longer lives, and these awards, I think, are a linchpin of that.”
One hundred businesses and nonprofits entered the 2017 Age Smart Employer competition, double the number in 2016.
Here are four other companies with pioneering programs for older workers.
— Huntington Ingalls Industries, the largest military shipbuilding company in the United States, operates The Apprentice School at its Newport News, Virginia, division.
“We don’t have an age limit,” said Susan Jacobs, vice president for human resources and administration with Newport News Shipbuilding. “Employees go into The Apprentice School well past the age of what you would think a traditional student would be.”
The company’s overall workforce of 22,000 is composed of 38 percent baby boomers, 40 percent millennials and 20 percent Generation Xers.
“Nearly half of our employees could retire at any day,” Jacobs said. “That puts us in a risky situation, and we certainly don’t want those people to retire. Being a master shipbuilder is not easy, and it takes an awful lot of time to become an expert.”
To keep its aging workforce engaged with their work, there are intergenerational mentoring programs. Younger workers mentor older ones, too. “What we have found is that the younger workers are helping employees who have been here longer get really comfortable with using the technology.”
— Accounting firm partners over age 60, who are frequently forced out by mandatory retirement practices, are just the kind of talent PKF O’Connor Davies, a network of independent accounting and advisory firms in 440 cities and 150 countries, is happy to hire.
Many of the firm’s 800 employees, who range in age from 21 to 83, have the option to work shorter workweeks or flexible hours. Some employees have relocated to an office nearer to home to allow for a shorter commute, or work part time from home. Employees nearing retirement have been permitted to reduce their hours or work as consultants.
“Hiring older workers for our team has been a home run for us as well as for workers about to go into retirement or in retirement,” said Thomas F. Blaney, a partner and director of the firm’s Foundation Services, based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. “It’s not about age really. We just want talented people.”
— Silvercup Studios is a family-owned film and television production company in New York where shows like “The Sopranos,” “Girls” and “Sex and the City” have been filmed.
With studios in Long Island City and the Bronx, it employs 49, and more than half are over 50. Two workers recently celebrated their 30th anniversary with Silvercup.
“We didn’t sit around and say, ‘OK, we are going to have a plan to hire and keep older workers,’” said Gary Kesner, executive vice president for Silvercup. “It is not part of an overall program. It just makes sense for us.”
Hiring people with experience presents distinct advantages. “They’re more settled,” Kesner said. “There’s more sense of loyalty. And it costs more to bring in new staff than it costs to retain people.”
— The furniture maker Steelcase, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers workers a phased retirement program with reduced and part-time hours. Facing a large number of retiring boomers, especially in the IT and manufacturing skilled trades departments, the company began a phased retirement plan in 2012.
For the past year and a half, David Rinard, 62, director of environmental special projects, has been transitioning toward retirement.
He started his career at Steelcase in 1979 as an assistant environmental engineer and moved steadily up the ranks to director of global environmental performance, a position he held for 13 years. Today, he calls himself semiretired.
The program has allowed him to spend more time with his wife, who is six years older and retired, while earning an income and not worrying about health care coverage before he is eligible for Medicare at 65, he said. He added, “And my wife actually appreciates the days I’m busy with work.”