Baby boomers are back on campus. This is what universities and employers need to know

man working computer

In the near future, people over 60 will comprise an essential part of the workforce.

Photo: Bigstock.

For a long time, when people reached their 50s it was time to consider a retirement plan. Today, that scenario has changed. The lack of pension plans worldwide has built a different reality for adults and young professionals entering the labor market.

In some countries legal retirement comes at 65 years old, but, according to Kathleen Elkins, people would have to work well into their 70s to maintain their way of living. What does this mean in terms of health and education?

The subject sure sounds grim, but a workforce with a rising number of seniors doesn’t have to be a desperate situation if we start getting ready for it now.

A new profile of a senior worker

Longevity has been a problematic subject, socially speaking. We associate old age with a decrease in mental and physical capacity. That's why we see people over 65 as people who need special care, not as valuable members of the workforce and society. Bottom line, we still lack paths to empower seniors.

The most valuable resources that senior employees have are their knowledge, experience, and a particular set of skills developed on the lifespan of their careers.

However, as we age our health deteriorates. Companies should create strategies to help the new "silver wave" employees to be healthy physically and mentally.

Japan's example

Japan not only has one of the most long-lived populations globally. It also has some of the highest levels of well being and quality of life for seniors. They achieved this by changing the work culture and bringing in new ideas about social insertion, care, and education for seniors.

The way we understand the phases of professional life is changing. Until now it has been: education, work, and retirement. Nowadays, educational institutions and companies are trying something different. An approach in which these steps are not only serialized items of a list, but interconnecting paths that build personal and professional development.

Many universities worldwide have launched programs to grant students the opportunity to work and get job experience before graduation. It has also become common for young people to take hiatus periods in which they formulate a life plan or change their career or professional paths.

Careers are not linear processes anymore. Having inflexible expiration dates on people’s capacity to work doesn’t make sense anymore. With that in mind, Japan created the Council for Designing the 100-Year-Life Society, an organization dedicated to guaranteeing primary care for seniors and securing their insertion into the workforce and Japanese social life.

The first recommendations from the council were to increase the pay for caretaker workers significantly, expand education options, and facilitate the employment of the elderly.

In the rest of the world, some educational institutions have carried out initiatives to address baby boomers. One of these efforts is the "Global network of age-friendly universities," a specialized global network of 51 universities with inclusive programs for the elderly to motivate their participation in the educational offer and find strategies to reinforce their learning.

Senior workers and companies, how do we keep them together?

The demographic trend is pointing to an increase in senior population worldwide, surpassing 700 million in 2006. It is projected that by 2050 there will be 2.1 billion people over 60. Companies need to jump into the senior sector, and the sooner, the better.

What is the most attractive perk you can offer an employee of +65 years old? Flexibility. Because of their particular needs and responsibilities, senior employees will need more flexible work plans.

Moreover, it is necessary that companies include other indicators in their performance metrics to adapt to a new labor market inclusive with age. Productivity is not only measured with hours, but with talent, experience, and results.

New metric systems that consider results over time worked could show companies the real advantages of keeping senior employees in the workforce. Moreover, a life-long learning and tailor-made approach for the elderly can be a real game-changer for the older worker.

The so-called "silver wave" is changing the workplace worldwide. This cohort represents the economic power of baby boomers in their retirement age and the products and services aimed specifically at them. Education is one of these services; older students are paying between $ 440,000 and $ 1.4 million in education and housing fees when they return to college campuses to continue their studies.

It is possible to create a more inclusive workforce who welcomes elderly workers who will form an essential part of the labor market in the future.