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The rise of older workers

When Linda Van Dyke retired at 65, she never dreamed she’d be working in foodservice at 80. But these days, you’ll find her at the HoneyBaked Ham Company and Café in Tacoma, Washington, arranging sampler trays and welcoming customers. “I do it because I like to be productive and surrounded by people,” says Van Dyke. An 80-year-old hostess? Get used to it. The 2005 Year End Report from People Report, a foodservice consulting firm, shows that recruitment and retention will be more challenging than ever in the years ahead.

“I do it because I like to be productive and surrounded by people,” says Van Dyke. 

An 80-year-old hostess? Get used to it.

The 2005 Year End Report from People Report, a foodservice consulting firm, shows that recruitment and retention will be more challenging than ever in the years ahead. The addition of new jobs, a steadily declining unemployment rate and added pressure from other industries are contributing factors. Smart operators are seeing the advantage of tapping into an older age group for new hires.

“Foodservice traditionally looked at cheap, young people for  jobs, but with the shrinking labor pool, that model doesn’t work well today,” says Steven Little, a consultant to Inc. magazine and an expert in growing businesses. “By 2014, there will be more jobs to fill plus a shortage of skilled workers.”

Research recently conducted for AARP confirms Little’s assessment. Other key findings are also significant for restaurant operators:

  • Some companies may be able to escape the talent crunch entirely if today’s age 50-plus workers continue working longer than previous generations.
  • Sixty-eight percent of age 50 to 70 not-yet-retired workers plan to work in some capacity into their retirement years.
  • Older workers are more motivated to exceed expectations than younger ones.

At New York City’s Tavern on the Green, 86-year-old Alfredo Mora works five shifts a week as a banquet waiter/bartender. “Not only is he reliable, he’s an excellent role model for the younger employees,” says GM William Zambrotto. “Alfredo truly appreciates and enjoys his job.”

And that’s the prime advantage to employing retirees, as Little sees it. “A young person’s dream is to retire early, but for someone over 65, it’s a nightmare to have nothing to do.”

New Tricks

It’s not necessary to handle older workers with kid gloves, but understanding their needs and learning about best practices and resources can help forge a successful employer/employee relationship.

  • Be flexible. Be open to developing flexible schedules and implementing scheduling changes to accommodate personal business.
  • Be willing to share. Provide opportunities for job sharing between two retirees or an older worker and a younger one who is looking for better work/life balance.
  • Always think ahead. Invest in training and education to encourage all employees to update technology skills, workplace safety rules and other issues. And create an age-neutral policy that doesn’t single out senior citizens.
  • Create a job bank. Partner with agencies that help older workers find jobs. Join with other restaurants to create a job bank of retirees who are interested in temporary positions.
  • Get in touch with AARP. Refer to the AARP Employer website for more information and resources: www.aarp.org/employerresourcecenter.

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