Employer Strategies for Responding to an Aging Workforce

Employer Strategies for Responding to an Aging Workforce

by Francine M. Tishman, Sara Van Looy, and Susanne M. Bruyère

Executive Summary

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in 2006, the number of workers over age 55 is projected to increase significantly over the next 20 years, with this demographic group projected to comprise as much as one-fifth of the nation’s workforce by 2015. The unprecedented aging of the world’s population and the strong correlation between aging and disability challenges many institutions, labor markets, and public pension programs.

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The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey issued a subcontract to Cornell University, ILR School, Employment and Disability Institute, to conduct research to explore how public- and private-sector employers are preparing for an increasingly older workforce that is likely to be a workforce with more disabilities. This work has been conducted on behalf of the NTAR Leadership Center, a technical assistance and research center housed at the Heldrich Center and supported by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

In meeting the objectives associated with this project, the research team reviewed select recent academic, legal, and related literature on public- and private-sector employer strategies to prepare for an aging workforce. The team also interviewed national experts and thought leaders in the field of employer strategies for addressing an aging workforce, as well as specific public- and private-sector employers recommended by the national experts. The interviews contained questions about promising employer strategies to recruit, retain, train, and promote and enable bridges to retirement for older workers with disabilities. The report also provides numerous examples of successful public- and private-sector retention initiatives that suggest a needed policy platform to facilitate replication.

This literature and legal review, along with the recommendations gathered through individual interviews with leading, national experts on the aging workforce, gives credibility to the dialogue currently under way in Congress and in the media about the viability of the Social Security system given the large number of retired Americans and the number projected to retire within the next 10 to 20 years. Experts recommend that both public and private research efforts be directed to investigate the impact of changes in public policy (i.e., increasing the minimum retirement age, providing incentives to older workers to remain employed longer, and offering employers payroll incentives to hire and retain older workers). Understanding the high correlation between aging and disability, experts also suggest examining and documenting the cost, provision, and efficacy of accommodations from the business perspective.