The term “senior citizen” has a bad rep. There is a bias in society that conjures images of white-haired, frail elderly people hunched over with walkers and past their prime. This perception, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth.
(Above) Primed and ready. A growing number of older adults are seeking opportunities to contribute to their community by volunteering or returning to the workforce.
Demographically speaking, the senior age bracket begins at age 55, nearly a decade lower than today’s average retirement age of 64. People are living longer and healthier lives, and many are discovering that they have much life left in them and a desire to do more. While a small percentage of people retire early, some also have financial reasons for wanting to stay in or return to the workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 37.7 million 55+ workers were employed as of August 2023. With many companies still struggling to fill positions, the rising senior workforce stands at the ready. While some people in this age bracket have skill gaps, the Baby Boomer and early-stage Gen-X generation of workers are known for their strong work ethic, making them ideal and eager candidates for many positions.
Some industries, such as programming and data fields, have a higher barrier to entry; however, there is a mistaken belief that older workers can’t or won’t learn. Research by the National Institute of Aging showed that knowledge and expertise continue to develop beyond the age of 80, disproving the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Older workers also bring more experience, allowing them to mentor younger workers. Additionally, age diversity in the workplace has been shown to maximize team output.
At a local level, a little-known and underutilized resource is available that connects nonprofits and employers with older adults.
Vantage Aging is a nonprofit whose mission is to promote a positive perspective on aging. While many people may be familiar with its Meals on Wheels program, the nearly 50-year-old organization provides volunteer and workforce solutions, including job training and placement services, for low-income adults age 55 and older.
Vantage Aging’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Ohio Department of Aging and connects low-income, unemployed adults age 55 and older to paid job training opportunities. The program is available in 38 Ohio counties, including Summit, Portage, Stark, and Medina.
For older adults, the paid, hands-on learning provides an opportunity to explore new careers or improve their skills in five areas: office administration, health and social services, food service, customer service, and facility management. Training ranges from computer technology, such as Microsoft Office, to forklift operation, with some courses allowing participants to achieve industry-recognized certifications.
To qualify as a training site, organizations must be a 501(c)(3) or government unit, provide 20 hours a week of supervised training for each program participant, and ensure that participants’ activities contribute to existing services and enhance their skills.
For employers seeking to fill direct-to-hire positions, the SCSEP program also offers a pool of trained candidates who can be prescreened and interviewed to assist in the hiring process.
Resource for Nonprofits
Vantage Aging’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) connects volunteers with opportunities to serve their community and is available in seven counties, including Summit and Medina. Funded by AmeriCorps Seniors and local partners, RSVP is the largest volunteer network for older adults in the nation, matching volunteers’ interests and talents with the needs of organizations.
The Future of the Workforce
Some experts worry that the aging workforce presents a problem regarding social security and Medicare funds for future generations. The reality is seniors aren’t planning to stop contributing to the workforce anytime soon. While increasing numbers of people delaying retirement or returning to the workforce could negatively impact younger workers, the advantages outweigh the risks for now.
For businesses and organizations looking to fill gaps in their staff, the Boomers are ready to bounce back. And Vantage Aging has the resources to help.
388 S Main Street, Suite 325
Akron, OH 44311