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More seniors decide to stay on the job

Resource type: News

Arizona East Valley Tribune |

There was a time when Barbara Jacovitch says she was rejected as being too old for a job when she was in her 40s. Today, at age 69 the Chandler resident is working 32 hours a week as a customer service representative at the McKesson Specialty call center at the Galleria Corporate Centre in downtown Scottsdale. “I have enjoyed working here since day one,” she said. “You’re helping people so they can enjoy life more. … I am fortunate there are companies that are willing to keep senior adults working.” Times are changing, and employers and government officials are paying more attention to the benefits of hiring older workers. Keeping people working longer will soon not be just a matter of social correctness – it will be a matter of economic necessity. The first of the baby boomer generation will reach retirement age at the beginning of the next decade, and important economic sectors such as health care, utilities, government and education are facing the prospect of worker shortages. Over the next 25 years, 77 million Americans in the baby boomer generation will reach retirement age. As a result, the financial pressure on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security will be immense. Today, there are seven working adults for every senior to support those programs, but in 15 years there will only be three working adults for every senior, said Ayelet Hines, manager of Experience Wave, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign that advocates changes in federal and state laws to encourage seniors to stay in work and civic life. “It is in every generation’s interest to keep seniors working longer,” she said. “We cannot afford to have people forced out of the work force when they could contribute to entitlement programs longer.” Also she said many boomers will need to continue working because they haven’t saved enough money to live comfortably in retirement. On the federal level, the group is supporting bills that would extend health insurance coverage for workers who retire early and promote life-long learning accounts -tax-deferred education accounts that employees and employers can contribute to for continuing education. A MODEL FOR OTHERS In Arizona, the state has launched the Arizona Mature Work Force Initiative, a coalition of employers, community colleges, temporary agencies and senior advocacy groups that is sponsoring such activities as mature worker job fairs and training courses targeting seniors. Experience Wave is so impressed with the Arizona program that it is promoting it in other states as a model, Hines said. “Arizona is at the vanguard of this issue,” she said. The initiative was launched by the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging as part of an effort to keep baby boomers in the work force, said Melanie Starns, director of the initiative and Gov. Janet Napolitano’s policy adviser on aging. In addition to three job fairs the group has already sponsored, the initiative is working on a public awareness campaign to help businesses understand the value of older workers and a mature worker Web site to provide information on the availability of both paid and volunteer work, she said. The group is also planning to devise a Mature Worker-Friendly Employer designation to recognize employers that promote age diversity in their workplaces, she said. Employers would be able to apply for the “seal of approval” through the Arizona Department of Commerce or governor’s office. Another initiative is creating a Work Force Transition Center at GatewayCommunity College in Phoenix, which would provide information on training programs that could help older workers gain the skills they need to stay in the work force. The mature worker initiative is an attempt to get results on a minimal budget without the need for legislation, Starns said. “There are a lot of states that are trying to pass a bill here and there,” she said. “But a lot of it is peoples’ perceptions about age and the older work force, and you can’t legislate to think differently. What’s needed is everyone working together.” BORN OF NECESSITY The McKesson Specialty program is an example of how employers may be able to keep baby boomers working longer. The company, a unit of the giant McKesson health care services company, was having trouble finding employees for its call center in Scottsdale, which answers questions from customers about their medications. “Our ability to recruit is challenging because there are a lot of call centers here that we have to compete with for quality candidates,” said Andrew Shelfer, vice president of human resources. Thus, out of necessity the company began looking at hiring more seniors, he said. To mitigate the costs and risks, the company is working with a temporary employment agency, Adecco, to screen candidates over 55. AARP then qualifies the candidates to receive federally subsidized training through ScottsdaleCommunity College on the use of the technology employed at the call center. Once hired, the older employees receive standard wages and benefits including health insurance, paid holidays and personal time off and 401(k) plans. Since 2005, when the program began, 30 employees joined the company through the program. Of that number, 14 remain with the company. Shelfer said that turnover rate is actually less than with the general employee population. “This is a churning environment,” he said. Typically, the older workers most often leave because they move, find volunteer work that takes up their time or have health-related issues, he said. McKesson is happy with the program and plans to continue it with another class this summer, Shelfer said. Among the advantages he sees is that many of the inbound callers are seniors themselves and relate better to someone of similar age. “We feel we got the foot in the door early as the boomers retire,” he said.

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