- Jan 7, 2002
To his younger coworkers, Robert Hobbs is old school: He wears suits to meetings, rarely calls in sick and works long hours with little complaint.
Hobbs? new employer, Fifth Third Bank, would call him a godsend. At 58, Hobbs has more than 30 years of banking experience, business savvy and the people skills the bank needs at its new Farmington Hills branch.
Like Hobbs, many workers over 50 find themselves in demand as some younger people struggle to shed the slacker label.
From Kelly Services to Farmer Jack to Home Depot, companies are turning to the gray-haired set to add maturity, leadership and sterling office habits to their work force.
The 65 and older age group is the only one growing in Michigan, a state where overall employment has fallen over the past three years, said Karen Kosniewski, president of Operation ABLE of Michigan, a Southfield nonprofit organization that offers job training for mid-career and older workers.
Farmer Jack looks to mature workers because they tend to prefer part-time work, a backbone of the grocery industry, said Maria Ward, spokeswoman for the Detroit chain.
?We find they bring stability to the work force. They come with a good attitude, and they?re a good influence on younger workers,? Ward said.
Home Depot, the home improvement warehouse chain, teamed up with last month with AARP ? formerly the American Association of Retired Persons ? to create a national hiring partnership aimed at attracting older workers. These employees are ideal for retailers because they are less likely to hop from job to job, said company spokeswoman Goldie Taylor. They also relate well to Home Depot?s customer base, which includes many longtime homeowners upgrading their dwellings.
Companies go to great lengths to hold onto older workers. CVS Corp. will find temporary jobs in its Florida stores for those workers who migrate south in the winter.
Younger workers, on the other hand, sometimes feel squeezed out of the tight job market these days. In fact, a growing number of reverse age discrimination complaints have been filed by workers in their 20s and 30s.
Last month, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a law barring employers from discriminating against workers over 40 doesn?t apply to younger employees.
At Fifth Third, Hobbs is surrounded by younger coworkers. As a baby boomer, Hobbs said he has noticed their habits. Whereas Hobbs drags himself in when he has a cold, they tend to take the day off. But Hobbs admits he probably should do the same.
?I?ve got sons older than him,? Hobbs said of his 24-year-old senior office manager. ?But I?ve enjoyed working with him and helping him along. I feel like a mentor.?
That?s not to say Generation X or the Millennials ? workers between ages 16 and 39 ? are less than capable, said Cam Marston, a business consultant in Charlotte, N.C., who specializes in age-related work issues.
There?s some concern, though, that this pool of knowledge could run short. Baby boomers ? those born between 1945 and 1964 ? are starting to retire, taking their knowledge with them. And demographers say there are not enough younger workers to take their place, leaving a potential gap between the number of positions and the workers available.
By the year 2010, 17 percent of the nation?s work force will be adults ages 55 and older, up from 13 percent in 2000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. By 2050, that number will increase to 19 percent.
During this same time period, younger workers between 25 and 54 are expected to decline from 71 percent of the work force in 2000 to 67 percent in 2010 and 65 percent in 2050.
Of Michigan?s 9.9 million residents, 27 percent are more than 50 years old, according to the 2000 Census.
The numbers have driven employers to seek out older workers. Kelly Services, a Troy-based staffing provider, considers mature workers a key growth strategy, said Senior Vice President George Corona.
?They?ve got greater skills, fewer commitments and flexible schedules, so they?re great for our customers,? Corona said.
About 14 percent of Kelly?s temporary employees are over age 55. Demand for mature employees is highest in fields like engineering, finance, health care and information technology, Corona said.
Bill Ault, 57, of Farmington Hills is a former Ford Motor Co. information technology manager who retired from the automaker in 2002, but wasn?t ready to stop working altogether. Despite the trend in the United States of outsourcing IT work to other countries, Ault landed a job with Ajilon Consulting.
?I don?t think I was hired because of my age, but certainly my company values diversity in its work force and values my experience,? he said.
Job fairs and Web sites devoted to older employees are another way for older workers to find a second career. Kelly is one of 30 companies planning to attend Operation Able?s ?Ability is Ageless? job fair March 31 in Southfield. Last year, more than 1,500 people attended the fair.
Hobbs found his job as a banking center manager for Fifth Third by networking. He had retired at 53, but found his personality ill-suited to leisurely rounds of golf. He has worked at the Ohio-based banking chain for about a year now, logging 45-hour work weeks.
A third of Fifth Third?s eastern Michigan employees are more than 40 years old, said Stacy Byers, Fifth Third?s Senior Vice President of Human Resources.
?Older workers bring skills, maturity and judgment that are valuable competencies, especially in the banking industry,? Byers said.
This trend may create new problems even as it solves employee shortages. Four generations are now collaborating in the workplace, which sometimes results in poor communication between coworkers. For example, baby boomers tend to believe in strict lines between managers and subordinates while Generation X wants everyone to be friends, studies have shown.
?Five or six years ago, (generational consulting) was looked at as a novel concept,? Marston said. ?Now, companies are realizing it?s an acute problem and they need to listen.?