New Opportunities, Old Workforce: How the Silver Tsunami is Turning the Tide of Retail Hiring

According to a 2010 survey from the National Retail Federation, more than 14 percent of the total retail workforce in the U.S. comprised workers aged 55 or older, and the Urban Institute found that retailers employed the most workers aged 65 and older out of any employment sector in the nation.

Bringing older workers to the retail industry isn’t a new phenomenon. Back in 2004, Home Depot set the standard by teaming up with the AARP to recruit older workers for its stores. Under the partnership, the AARP trained its members—all aged 50 or older—in areas such as plumbing, landscaping, kitchen and bath, then assisted them to find job placements in the specific Home Depot departments they were trained in. And clothing retailer L.L. Bean specifically recruits older staff for its seasonal hiring, using marketing campaigns with slogans such as, “use our employee discount to shop for your grand-kids.

The current economic crisis in the U.S. has meant older workers are seeking new careers in even greater numbers than before. Older workers who have been laid off traditionally have a harder time finding a job in their existing profession, and have been forced to turn to lower-paid jobs traditionally reserved for college students and teenagers. The trend is becoming so common, abc news wrote an article accusing older workers of “taking kids’ temp jobs.”

But if you haven’t already been swept up in what’s being referred to as the “silver tsunami,” you might be wondering why retailers are focusing their efforts so intently on the older crowd. As it turns out, older workers have significant advantages for the retail industry in particular, making them an attractive proposition for hire:

Scheduling While younger retail employees often have to fit their work schedule around their college classes or parenting responsibilities, older workers are often more able to accept constantly changing schedules. In fact, older workers typically value the flexibility that comes with a retail job, preferring not to be tied down to a fixed 9-5 schedule.

Productivity The Wharton School of Business notes that older workers take fewer sick days than younger workers. For both scheduling purposes and overall productivity, this is a great benefit for retailers.

Loyalty The retail industry is used to high turnover, and retaining seasonal workers for more than one season is no small feat. Yet over half of the seasonal older workforce employed by L.L. Bean returns to the company “year after year.” Because older workers are not necessarily dependent on the job for their day-to-day expenses, they’re more likely to be available for hire in multiple years, unlike other staff that are seeking permanent employment elsewhere.

If older workers continue to retire at the same rate as generations past, there will be millions of unfilled vacancies in the U.S. within the next decade, and competition for retired workers will be fierce—not just in retail but throughout the nation’s various employment sectors. Get ahead of the crowd by assessing how the older workforce can add value to your organization and targeting your recruitment now.

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Categories: Articles for Employers, Recruitment Strategy

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