Around the County

A quiet revolution in the workforce

By Pat Stuart
Posted 9/26/23

Along with all the other things that are changing in this rapidly changing world, so is the nature of the workforce. It’s in response to the refrains heard over and over, like:

“No …

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Around the County

A quiet revolution in the workforce


Along with all the other things that are changing in this rapidly changing world, so is the nature of the workforce. It’s in response to the refrains heard over and over, like:

“No one wants to work, anymore.”

“I can’t find anyone to do the job.”

“I’m going to have to close because ... “

We’ve heard the reasons why, too. “Young people just don’t want to work,” is probably the most common along with, “They’d rather collect welfare.”

All those people are lumped into the “Great Retirement” category. Fifty million people quit their jobs in 2022. Worse ... seeking higher salaries, more benefits, compatible work, and a list of other criteria, people of “working” age just aren’t taking jobs on offer. Whether they want to work or not, they aren’t.

It’s not just because Covid took so many people out of the workforce or because younger people don’t want to work. Numbers of factors have been at work creating the shortage of workers. One is young people pursuing more education rather than working. Another is shifting demographics with lower fertility rates, slowing population growth, and a growing percentage of healthy people aged 60-90 who employers pushed out of the workforce. 

The prognosis would not look particularly good if that was all there was to it. In fact, businesses have been closing. We’ve seen it here.  Even employers who’ve offered higher and higher salaries are still getting no takers.

But the calvary is on the horizon. Rescue is taking the most unlikely form, coming from the most discriminated part of the previous workforce — the older employees of all colors and gender. 

Hiring older workers to fill vacancies is a new trend and, as such, it’s way too soon to see how significant it will prove in either a cultural or economic sense. But there’s no question. It’s happening. Many of the employers who passed over their older employees in past years, pushing them out the door before their benefits kicked in, are now actively trying to get those same people back and find others like them.

This is a huge shift in thinking, one so new it’s difficult to assess the ultimate impact. A year ago we lived in a culture where “ageism” (discrimination based on age) was a major dynamic in the workforce. The thinking was: workers lose it after they pass middle age. They slow down. They no longer try. Their future is limited. Employers believed younger workers were more effective and “the future.”

In 2021, an AARP survey found that 78% of people aged 40-65 had either seen or personally experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Another survey of 800 hiring managers across the United States found that 38% of them admitted to reviewing applications with age bias.

At the same time, with workers leaving their jobs, the U.S. had major job losses. Statistics vary depending on how you count and what you count, but the bottom line was applications dried up. Where an office could expect a dozen or more responses to a job opening pre-Covid, the post-Covid experience was to get none or a few.

Something had to give and, it turns out, the something is a change in optic among management and HR departments. Need, it seems, can provide a huge incentive to find value where it previously didn’t exist. Older is now better?

The result is potentially huge. By 2030, experts predict that 150 million jobs will shift to people 55 and older. And, while we’re looking at interesting statistics, over the last two decades, the share of the workforce aged 55 or older almost doubled. By 2028, over a quarter of the workforce will be aged 55 or older. That’s just plain demographics.

No wonder employees have turned their attention to factors they once ignored — the value of experience and strong skillsets, fewer outside demands on time, a willingness to remain in one place rather than jump from job to job, an overall higher level of reliability. 

Sounds good for the older worker? Maybe. All of that said, employers still vastly prefer younger workers, saying in surveys, for example, that given equal qualifications they would hire the 30-year-old rather than even a 45-year-old. 

But it’s early days. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out.