Older Workers

Study of Hennepin County shows older workers could help address state workforce shortage

Helping Minnesotans to work longer before retirement can benefit the state’s economy and also support workers who lack sufficient savings to retire.

That’s a finding of a recent study conducted for the Minnesota Board on Aging by Humphrey School of Public Affairs students in partnership with Hennepin County.

“Addressing the looming worker shortage will require continued focus if Minnesota’s economy is to remain vibrant,” the report says. “To ensure adequate numbers of employees in the next decade, Minnesota employers will need to offer compensation and benefits to attract and retain older workers. This will mean more flexible work schedules, benefits that may include health insurance … the possibility of working remotely and other flexible workplace offerings.”

The study found Minnesota is one of the nation’s top 10 states in its proportion of baby boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964 — to the general population. This is reflected in Hennepin County government, where more than a third of some 8,000 workers are over 55. Furthermore, because many older county workers hold leadership positions, the county’s leadership ranks will be greatly affected by retirements in the coming decade, the report said.

The Minnesota Board on Aging welcomes these findings as it charts a path to 2030, when baby boomers begin to turn 85,” said Kari Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging. “Support is needed for the many Minnesotans who want to remain employed out of economic necessity and/or because it contributes significantly to the community and to the individual’s quality of life.”

County leaders who were surveyed view older workers as having experience and resilience as well as mentoring, customer service and communications skills. Nearly 64 percent of survey respondents said it is important to encourage older employees to stay in the workplace past traditional retirement age to meet department needs. Challenges to employing older workers include their occasional inability to adapt to workplace changes such as new technology as well as physical limitations and taking time off to care for older parents. However, respondents said these challenges depend on the individual and in some cases affect younger workers, including those who need to take time off for child care.

“This report makes a compelling case that all employers should recognize retirees and older workers as a valuable talent resource to be relied upon for their institutional knowledge and mentoring skills for new workers,” said Michael Rossman, Hennepin County chief human resources officer. “With a pending worker shortage in our region, this is not a population of talent to be overlooked and is one to be engaged.”

Hennepin County already works to attract older workers with such approaches as flexible workplaces, ability to work remotely, phased retirement and limited duration contracts. The study noted that most successful retention and recruitment efforts, such as flexible work times and places, training and other features, benefit younger as well as older workers.

The report recommends the Minnesota Board on Aging:

  • Support policies that benefit older workers, particularly provisions that help lower-income workers who lack sufficient retirement savings and who will therefore benefit the most from staying in the workforce past retirement age;
  • Advise and educate partners and other Minnesotans on the workplace shortage and opportunities for employers to use older workers;
  • Develop a common language about the value of older workers; and
  • Continue research on the topic, leveraging the University of Minnesota as a resource, and involve Minnesota non-profit, for-profit and other public sector employees.

The report recommends Hennepin County:

  • Continue to celebrate the value of older workers;
  • Clarify work expectations by developing conversation guidelines for returning older workers and their managers as a way to clarify roles, work tasks and differences between full-time and part-time responsibilities;
  • Encourage two-way mentoring to promote greater understanding and respect among all employees; and
  • Continue communications regarding the worker shortage and solutions.

Read the report here: Older Workers - A Key to Bridging the Workforce Gap