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More and more retired workers are returning to the old grindstone. Some must return to work to avoid homelessness, some have medical bills to pay or families to support, and others work to stay active and learn new skills. Whatever the reason, 76 million baby boomers are set to retire, but choosing to stay at work even into their 70s. Many companies don’t know how to handle an aging workforce, and older workers are finding it difficult to compete with younger workers.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
Older workers have many benefits to offer, yet many potential employers would rather hire younger workers than take the time to retrain older workers. What they don’t know is that hiring an older worker might be the best investment they could make. Older generations possess a great sense of dedication and pride in their work, are generally easy to train, and can often act as mentors for younger co-workers. “Companies should look at hiring through an intergenerational perspective,” says Joanne Thomas of the Central Illinois Agency on Aging. “It’s really a combination of the talents each generation can bring to a company that will benefit them the most.”

Having confronted more challenges in their personal and professional lives, older workers can bring fresh ideas, wisdom and unique skill sets to the table because of their experience. They typically possess excellent communication skills, have an understanding of workplace politics and know how to deal with tough situations. Without much experience, younger workers may lack professionalism or the written, analytical and business skills of their older counterparts.

Training is key to retaining older workers and their productivity. Older workers are often accused of being “stuck in their ways” when employers have overlooked the need to properly train them as the work environment evolves. Once older workers are trained and brought up to speed with changing technologies, procedures and software, they will feel comfortable and confident.

Getting Better With Age
Consciously or not, employers may associate older workers with frailty and discount them as able-bodied individuals—but not all older workers are physically encumbered by their age. If they are in good health, they may even be able to do more physical labor than their younger counterparts. Though older workers may appear to face more health concerns, younger workers are just as likely to have health issues of their own. Older workers, by nature, are also more careful in their day-to-day lives than younger workers.

As long as older workers are correctly trained for their jobs, their risk of injury should be no greater than anyone else. The way a workplace is designed and the flexibility of everyday work procedures can also affect the efficiency of both younger and older workers. Consider improving the workspace—it can make a world of difference.

Attracting a Mature Workforce
If a company wants to attract older workers, where should it begin? The best place to start is to look at the opportunities already in place for experienced workers in the workplace. Offering equal opportunities for training and promotions to employees young and old can make older workers feel appreciated. The best way to keep employees up to date and engaged is to keep them informed about any changes to the company or work procedures. For some traditional industries, like carpentry, older workers may even be able utilize their skills and knowledge to train younger workers.

In some instances, companies even offer “Snowbird” programs, which allow older workers to be transferred to a branch in a warmer climate during the winter season. CVS, Home Depot and Borders are already offering these programs to employees and have had great success with them. Thomas, however, argues that she’s seeing more people coming home and staying put rather than switching homes as the seasons change. “Instead,” she suggests, “communities with cold winter climates should find ways to make home more livable for older workers through recreational and social activities.”

Resources and Assistance
There are many resources available for older workers looking for employment in the current job market. The following resources can provide valuable information and assistance to older workers in the Peoria area.

The AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50 and over improve the quality of their lives. jobs.aarp.org.

The Central Illinois Agency on Aging is a private, not-for-profit service agency committed to serving seniors, family caregivers and grandparents raising grandchildren, and to provide services to older persons and their caregivers in Fulton, Marshall, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell and Woodford counties. 700 Hamilton Boulevard, Peoria, IL 61603, (309) 674-2071, ciaoa.com.

Experience Works is America’s largest nonprofit provider of community service, training and employment opportunities for older workers. 406 Elm St, Peoria, IL 61605, (309) 655-3000, experienceworks.org.

The City of Peoria Workforce Development Office marshals local resources to assist individuals and businesses in central Illinois in reaching their full potential in the 21st-century “knowledge-based” economy. 211 Fulton Street #300, Peoria, IL 61602, (309) 495-8900, workforcenetwork.com.

Peoria Area Works helps job seekers find information about programs and services offered throughout the region to help them get back to work and to supply tips on building resumes and brushing up on interview skills, career fairs and job postings, and retraining and educational opportunities. peoriaareaworks.com. iBi

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