September 13, 2013

Experience opens doors to jobs for older workers

As baby boomers seek to stay in the workforce longer, some employers see real advantages in hiring them.

By Matt Sedensky / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

David Mintz, CEO of Tofutti, the maker of dairy-free products, is photographed at his workplace in Cranford, N.J. He says older employees bring to their work the energy and other qualities usually associated with youth – plus valuable experience.

The Associated Press

Many companies still tend to overlook older applicants. Peter Cappelli, a University of Pennsylvania professor who co-authored "Managing the Older Worker," said because the economy has remained relatively weak and demand for jobs has been so high, many employers haven't been pressed to directly recruit older individuals.

Stereotypes have prevailed. Hiring managers often still view older applicants as having lower job performance, higher absenteeism and accident rates, and less ability to solve problems and adapt to changes.

But Capelli said research has found older workers outpace younger ones in nearly every metric. And in jobs where age might be a detriment -- say, a highly physical job beyond a particular older person's ability -- seniors tend to exclude themselves from applying in the first place.

"The evidence is overwhelming that they're better," Cappelli said. "But the hiring managers are just going with their guts, and our guts are full of prejudice."

Paul Lugo, 69, of Kendall Lakes, Fla., has felt that prejudice. After decades of work in business development and customer service at various companies, Lugo found himself unemployed about two years ago. He needs the money, but no one wants to hire him.

"I've been to every mall, I've gone to the TSA, I've gone through thousands of applications," he said, "but I get the same thing: 'Don't call us, we'll call you."'

Lugo relies on occasional jobs as an extra in movies and television shows to supplement his Social Security check. He has even offered on job interviews to work for free for a week to prove he's worth hiring, but no one has taken him up on it.

"With my experience, I've learned so much," he said. "As a senior citizen, I have a lot to contribute to a company if they allow me, but they never give me a chance."

RECRUITING SENIORS

But older workers are just what Michelle Benjamin, CEO of TalentREADY, a New York-based consulting firm, is looking for. She holds open houses specifically aimed at recruiting them. About three-quarters of the company's senior employees are over 50. They often cost more to hire, Benjamin said, but they don't require much training or supervision, and end up paying for themselves with the quality of work.

"Clients are paying us to get to the bottom line really quickly," she said.

Mintz admits his own age, 82, fuels his support of older workers. But he echoes Capelli, saying he sees daily proof among the older individuals he has hired at Cranford, N.J.-based Tofutti: Fewer absences, fewer mistakes, a greater ability to solve problems and a willingness to put in more hours.

Though workers in highly physical warehouse jobs at his company skew younger, and older employees are not as adept in technology-driven roles, Mintz says overall their experience pays off.

"They're loaded with knowledge," he said. "They can teach the young whippersnappers."

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