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January 01, 2000
Older Workers in Demand
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rbucks, among other employers, has sweetened the pot to entice older employees in anticipation of a shortage of workers.

The San Francisco Business Times reports that the gourmet coffee chain is making older workers an offer they can't refuse: full medical, dental, and optical coverage for part-time work.

While layoffs and unemployment now grab the headlines, number-crunchers say the labor shortages of the late 1990s are ready to make a comeback, and the biggest drop will be among the young.

"When you look at the demographics over the next 10 years and upwards, the labor pool is going to come from the older workers," said Jo Davidson, Starbucks' partner resources manager for Northern California.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of people in the labor force age 55 and older to grow 32 percent by 2010, while those between 35 and 44 will shrink by 10.2 percent.

That means businesses must actively attract or retain older workers, as there simply won't be enough younger people - much less those with adequate experience - to make up the difference.

"At a certain point, we'll be back where we were two years ago ... but now we'll be experiencing (a labor shortage) in an economy that maybe isn't so hot, and that's maybe why the economy isn't so hot," said Rick Beal, a consultant with human resources consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

"When you look at the demographics over the next 10 years and upwards, the labor pool is going to come from the older workers."

Targeting older workers, however, isn't just about putting warm bodies into seats. Such workers, experts and businesses agree, also have a storehouse of knowledge, experience and management insight that's very difficult to replace.

"The main benefit is you're holding on to that knowledge base that otherwise walks out the door," said Beal. "As we're becoming a more knowledge-based economy that's important capital."

Signs that employers are looking to older workers are already beginning to appear:

- After reaching a 13-year high two years ago, job-search times for workers over 50 shortened to an all-time low of 2.96 months last year, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

- The current downturn has seen a pronounced decrease in the use of early retirement packages, a favorite cost-cutting device during the recession of the early 1990s.

"That's in part from the learning of last time," according to Beal. "You lose a lot of good people."

Moreover, he said there's now a recognition that the people best equipped to get businesses through tougher times are those with the most experience and those who have lived through a few economic cycles.

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