At what age should workers retire? French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms — bumping the retirement age up to 64 years old — have incited fiery protests. The U.S.’s wavering economy and the evolving American approach to labor has revived this debate at home.
At the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Conference, Dethra Giles, consultant and speaker, addressed a curious phenomenon: Baby Boomers in the U.S. remain an untapped generational talent pool because of age discrimination, even from retirement-aged decision makers in the workplace.
Giles started her session underscoring the talent gap that remains today; per the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ March 2023 jobs report, the unemployment rate is 3.5%. For context, April 2020’s reported unemployment rate was 14.7%.
“While it’s a wonderful number for politicians, it’s a horrible number for HR professionals,” Giles quipped to the audience. Her solution to filling the talent gap? Recruit people who are at the age of retirement.
This talent pool is ever-growing; Giles brought up the estimate that on average, 10,000 people reach retirement age each day, AARP International reported. And come 2030 — seven short years, Giles emphasized – almost 75 million baby boomers are slated to retire. This is an event that’s already being titled by many talent professionals as “The Great Retirement.”
A noteworthy aspect of this growing and underrated talent pool, sources say, is that it’s filled with people who are both eager to work and are highly qualified.
Many have college degrees and many are starting small businesses in lieu of retirement, Giles pointed out. More frankly, complete retirement is out of reach for many older workers: The median 401(k) balance for pre-retiree talent (aged 55 to 64) is $177,805.
And it probably takes more capital to run their households, she added: Research shows more than half of baby boomers are financially supporting adult children aged 18 to 39.
Giles’ session painted a picture of what it would look like for baby boomers — who need to pay bills, but also want to enjoy retirement — and employers — who desperately need to fill open roles with qualified talent, but are still tripping over ageism — to meet in the middle.
The presenter told an anecdote about a proposal she once gave to an exec at one of her client companies: She wanted him to consider tapping older employees for certain empty roles. It’s here she paused and asked SHRM attendees for examples of the kinds of excuses she’s received in instances like this one. Older people “don’t understand tech,” or will “just be here for a few years and they’re out.” Employers “need innovative people” and “young, fresh ideas.”
These are all euphemisms for “I don’t want to hire older people,” Giles said. Taking a more personal approach, she asked the exec what he was planning to do when he retired; he was to follow in the footsteps of his husband and sit on a shareholder board. Why? Because he had “a lot left to give,” he answered.
“Do you think you’re the only person over 65 who has a lot left to give?” Giles asked. Regarding the exec’s age, she thought, “Do you think you’re not innovative? What makes you think you’re the only person who’s over 65 who can do that?”
Giles focused on both reskilling talent and restructuring workflow as the “how” of recruiting retirees. The speaker noted the tug of war between recruiters that occurs, where one person wants to hire a candidate for their potential and the other wants to pass because the applicant has never done something before. But even that naysayer was new, once, Giles reminded the audience.
Additionally, employers can aim to embrace part-time contract and project-based work. Despite HR managers “Usain-Bolt-running” from the label “gig economy,” this work model is actually ideal for retirees, Giles said. Not all gig workers are careless with their work or leave employers hanging, Giles said. Plus, hiring contract workers instead of full-time employees can save companies money.
Giles left her Orlando, Florida, audience with a final stat: Per ResumeBuilder, 20% of retirees reported their employers have asked them to come back. That suggests that at least 80% haven’t been asked to return — making them an untapped talent pool filled with workers who can potentially boast upward of 40 solid years of work experience.