Reconsider Recruiting Tactics to Find Older Workers

January 25, 2018

Employers value the older workers they have on staff but often overlook older applicants to fill full-time positions they have open, observed Heather Tinsley-Fix, a senior advisor at AARP.

She was among panelists at the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) third SHRM Live virtual event, held Jan. 23, which examined ways HR practitioners can be more inclusive in attracting and retaining older workers. The National Council on Aging defines older workers as people ages 55 and older.

Age bias is a myopic view that employers facing tightening labor markets continue to hold at their peril, according to panelist Jeff Luttrell, senior director of talent acquisition and staffing at Alorica, an outsourcing and offshoring company in Irvine, Calif.

The U.S. labor force is expected to grow to about 164 million people by 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While those who are ages 65 and older will make up a smaller segment of the labor force, the BLS reports that this age group is projected to have faster rates of growth annually than any other age groups.

It's critical for organizations to change the way they recruit and to be aware of—and root out—any age bias they have, noted Aaron Abell. He is director of corporate HR and talent at Genesis Alkali LLC, a Philadelphia-based producer of soda ash. It falls to HR and others in leadership, he said, to call attention to any bias that may be negatively affecting their hiring process.

Luttrell said that, at his company, "We focus on the behaviors we're looking for. We're looking for people who can deliver great customer service. How old they are doesn't matter much."

Other recommendations from the panel:

Structure recruiting strategies to appeal to a variety of ages.

"We have a lot of entrenched stereotypes, [but] they don't hold up to scrutiny," Tinsley-Fix said of older workers. There is a myth, for example, that older workers are less productive but "productivity increases with age," she noted.

She recommended talking with recruiters about actual job requirements for an open position to dispel any assumption of who is, and who is not, an acceptable candidate.

Consider substituting the phrase, 'I need a younger person for this job' with 'I really need a white person for the job' or 'I really need a man for this job,' to underscore that ageism is discriminatory, unlawful and will not be tolerated, she suggested.

Luttrell noted that his organization made some adjustments to its recruiting strategy after taking a hard look at the messages it was sending. His company's marketing included graphics picturing young people with skateboards. He said he realized as an older worker himself that this was not the kind of branding that would attract him as a potential job candidate.

Partnering with organizations such as AARP and local groups that work with people ages 50 and older can help broaden the company's recruiting strategy, he added. The Senior Community Service Employment Program, for example, assists older workers with job training. Also, highlight benefits such as flexible work schedules, which appeal to younger and older generations and can serve as a retention tool.

Create a multigenerational culture.

The idea of changing a company's culture can seem daunting, Abell acknowledged. He advised starting small, such as by setting up mentorships between older and younger employees—including reverse mentorships. These types of programs can help create an appreciation among employees for the different types of skills and knowledge those workers bring to the organization and dispel myths in the process.

"Ageism cuts both ways," Tinsley-Fix observed. "You wouldn't want to be discriminated [against] as a younger person because you don't have enough experience."

Find examples of older workers succeeding and leading on the job and celebrate them with your staff to create a more inclusive workplace.

That's what the HR department at Huntington Ingalls Industries did. The Fortune 500 shipbuilding company in Newport News, Va., created a video series that uses employees' personal stories as a way to challenge stereotypes, including those associated with age, said Jean C. Setzland, senior vice president of programs at AARP in Washington, D.C., in an interview with SHRM Online in October.

Additionally, teams throughout the organization should reflect age diversity.

"As long as we have a culture of inclusion, the stereotypes will break down," Tinsley-Fix said. 

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