The Working Class that Doesn’t Quit – Are Seniors the Answer to the Workforce Shortage?

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By 6 a.m. Andree Carlson is rolling up her sleeves and rolling out dough at a supermarket bakery in Georgia. She’s locally renown for making the best biscuits in town. Three hours later, Marjorie Zingle of Calgary is meeting with her 9 a.m. to discuss the spinoff to her cybersecurity firm. Stephen Greyser is already at his Harvard Business School office working on case study number 301, in pursuit of the record breaking 500th case.

What’s unique and astonishing about this group is that each of these employees is over 80 years of age. Greyser is 88, with Zingle close behind at 87, and Carlson being the youngster at the mere age of 82.

“I love to go into a meeting and surprise everybody,” says Marjorie, CEO of DataHive and her spinoff company, DataHiveSecure. As a widow, she says she has no interest in retiring.

According to the Census Bureau, some 650,000 Americans age 80 years and above comprised an active segment of the workforce last year – up 18% from the previous decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts workforce participation by people 75 years and older will exceed 11% of overall employment by 2030. During that same time period, the participation rate among all other age groups is expected to drop.

Nearly half these senior workers are full-timers. And while some work in service jobs, octogenarians are more commonly found in professional, managerial, and financial roles. While some senior employees must work due to financial constraints, many are choosing to work – just because they want to.

Forecasts show by 2030 – when everyone in the baby boomer demographic reaches 65 or older – there will be almost twice as many workers 75 and above than in 2020. This significant shift is prompting the employment world to rethink the role older workers could play in the workforce. For retirees, it means the opportunity to stay relevant, and keep contributing to society with the satisfaction of meaningful jobs. Perhaps getting going each day with a sense of purpose could even be a boon to fighting cognitive decline in the golden years.

Andree Carlson was surprised to be “recruited” from one competing bakery to another, discovering that her ability as a grandma to bake fantastic biscuits, combined with a willingness to get an early start each morning, made her an enviable commodity. She says she works with other older people who like having somewhere to go, something that needs to be done. “Everyone likes to feel needed,” she explained.

A growing number of high powered people are shunning retirement partially or entirely while maintaining their career path. Harrison Ford appears in his latest Indiana Jones movie at age 80 this summer. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet is 92. Jane Goodall is still serving on boards and working to protect primates at 89. And while many boards have mandatory retirement ages on the books, it’s becoming more common to grant waivers to execs with “vital knowledge” to the company.

Could it be the answer to America’s workforce shortage will be silver haired? What does this growing new working class population mean to marketers?  Read more here.

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