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Older Workers Can Weather Economic Downturn

As the spring crop of college graduates enters the workforce, seasoned workers can do several things to ratchet to up their value in the job market, says a professor at Texas A&M University who teaches and conducts research in the area of human resource management.

As the spring crop of college graduates enters the workforce, seasoned workers can do several things to ratchet to up their value in the job market, says a professor at Texas A&M University who teaches and conducts research in the area of human resource management.

“On the whole, there is still a good demand for people who want to work,” says Ryan Zimmerman, whose research has been widely published in such publications as Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Management and the International Journal of Selection and Assessment.

“The key is to not let yourself stagnate. Keep your skills up-to-date and network – whatever you can do to remain marketable – and above all, remain flexible. I think it’s good when a person in a position for a long time decides to learn something new. It’s good for the employee and it’s good for the organization.”

Such freshening gives workers more options, such as promotion within an existing organization or moving into a higher-paying job elsewhere, he says.

Additional jobs are opening up as the baby boomers retire, Zimmerman says, and many employers prefer replacement workers who have some experience. The pool of older employees is growing faster than the younger workers, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates between 1998 and 2015 the population of people 55 and older will grow by 5.2 percent, while the population of people 16-54 will only grow by 1.6 percent. The number of those 65 and older is expected to grow by 3.2 percent between 2015 and 2025, while the 16-64 age bracket will only grow by .8 percent.

Many individuals reaching retirement age plan to stay in the workforce, as indicated in an AARP report that states about 80 percent of baby boomers plan on working past retirement age.

Many companies value the older workers so much, they are building in programs and bonuses to retain retirement-age workers through their 60s and even 70s, Zimmerman says.

“These people represent a lot of institutional knowledge and experience that the company can’t get elsewhere, and companies are finding it difficult to capture that knowledge," he says. “I don’t think the negative is in being older, it’s in being out of date with your skills – and that is fairly easy to solve.

Familiarity with computer programs and advanced training are two areas that are fairly easy to attain through professional organizations or community programs.

“A lot of companies offer tuition reimbursement so not only are they paying for your education, a lot of times they’re giving you time off work to go do it,” Zimmerman says. “If you don’t, you’re missing out on a great opportunity.”

Zimmerman also recommends that workers of any age make an effort to network, both with others in their own field and people outside their immediate circle.

Fear of change is a big constraint for older workers, but Zimmerman says change can be invigorating. He recommends that older workers take an interest inventory to see what other job avenues exist. “That way you can kind of shop around for what else you’d like to do in case you do go through a down-sizing or lay-off,” he says. “A little time spent on self-examination can turn into a whole new career, with a whole new set of rewards.”

Kelli Levey | newswise
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