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New Skills Help Older Workers Compete in Job Market

As a new crop of college graduates enters the work force, a Texas A&M University professor points out that senior workers can take steps to bolster their value in the job market and compete with up-and-comers.

“On the whole, there is still a good demand for people who want to work,” said Ryan Zimmerman, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the university’s business school who conducts human resource management research. “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.”

A willingness to refresh skills gives older workers more options, such as promotion within an existing organization or moving into a higher paying job elsewhere, Zimmerman said.

“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,” he added.

New Skills and Networking

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 explained. “If you don’t, you’re missing out on a great opportunity.”

Zimmerman also recommended 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 said change can be invigorating. He suggested 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 downsizing or lay-off,” he said. “A little time spent on self-examination can turn into a whole new career, with a whole new set of rewards.”

The Demand for Experience

The pool of older employees is growing faster than the younger workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the population of people 55 and older will grow by 5.2 percent between 1998 and 2015, 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.

As baby boomers retire and additional jobs open up, many employers prefer replacement workers who have some experience, said Zimmerman. In fact, some companies value the older workers so much that they are building in programs and bonuses to retain retirement-age workers through their 60s and even 70s, he added.

“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 said. “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.”

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