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School and Program Updates

Columbia Aging Center Releases Age Smart Industry Guides: Older Workers Play Pivotal Role in Solving Today’s Workforce Challenges

An investigation into the role older workers play in small businesses found that older workers serve as a solution to many of New York City’s pervasive staffing challenges. Successful businesses report overcoming the current shortage of qualified workers in professions including tailoring, carpentry, and jewelry manufacturing by focusing on retaining older workers longer and deploying them to train the next generation. Other — like many in the food services industry — report overcoming high worker turnover by hiring and retaining older employees.

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The results of these conversations are  integrated into peer-to-peer guides released today by the Age Smart Employer Awards, an initiative of the Columbia Aging Center at the Mailman School of Public Health and the New York Academy of Medicine, funded by the Sloan Foundation.

The four “Age Smart Industry Guides” contain detailed strategies and solutions from owners of city landmarks and newer enterprises. They are available online at Age Smart Employer (www.agesmartemployer.org). Targeted to key sectors of the local economy like food services, manufacturing and skilled trades, and nonprofit organizations, the guides feature peer-to-peer advice based on interviews with more than 100 business owners from all boroughs and include city landmarks, neighborhood stalwarts, and up and coming destinations.

In New York City, 99 percent of all businesses have fewer than 100 employees and routinely find themselves struggling to maintain an adequate workforce. Many of the challenges these businesses face can be addressed by a workforce that optimizes the presence of older and younger employees working side-by-side.

“Employers who hire and retain older workers overcome many of the struggles of small businesses, including staff turnover and escalating costs for recruitment and training,” says Dr. Ruth Finkelstein, director of the Age Smart program and associate professor in the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, located at the Mailman School. “Older employees bring more than an economic edge to the workplace. They have advanced technical skills and can serve as mentors to younger employees just gaining familiarity with workplace culture.”

The Age Smart Industry Guides demonstrate that New York City’s signature industries derive economic benefits from hiring older workers and integrating them in age-diverse workplaces. In the food service industry, for example, rates of staff turnover in quick-service restaurants as high as 120 percent annually can be reduced with older workers who remain in jobs as much as three times longer than younger workers.

Similarly in manufacturing, a sector where one skilled worker enters the workforce for every three who retire, efforts to retain employees beyond retirement age create workplace savings and promote expertise in business that require high levels of trained workers including carpenters, jewelers, plumbers, and tailors. In all kinds of businesses, older workers dramatically improve morale, institutional memory, and customer service capacity characteristic of long-standing employees.

“Older employees’ values set the tone for the entire business,” says Mr. Richard Aviles, owner of Bridge Cleaners and Tailors, who points to older employees as his business’s greatest asset. “They’re the most popular faces among our customers and among their peers,” he says. “Older workers teach the younger ones about manners and respect that you cannot learn on Google or Facebook, while the younger ones help the older ones embrace new technologies.”

The Age Smart Industry Guides include these statistics:

Age Smart Employer is an initiative of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at the Mailman School of Public Health through a partnership with The New York Academy of Medicine. Age Smart Employer receives funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.