Older workers staying on the job help close skills gap
LANSING — The growing talent gap in skilled trades jobs may be eased by the trend toward delayed retirement, experts said.
“Skilled trades account for more than 500,000 jobs in the Michigan economy, and approximately 15,000 new job openings are expected annually through 2024,” said Dave Murray, the director of communications at the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development.
However, “employers are challenged to find people with in-demand skills for the jobs they need to fill today,” Murray said.
Skilled trades jobs are in a variety of industries, but primarily in manufacturing and construction.
“There is not a set retirement age,” said Caleb Buhs, the director of communications at the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.
“Normally the anticipated retirement age is 65,” Buhs said. “But everybody’s circumstances might be different. It is based on their economic situation.”
Manufacturers in the state face challenges in hiring talented personnel, said Brett Gerrish, the communications coordinator at the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
The delayed retirement trend helps manufacturers ease the shortage of younger skilled workers, Gerrish said.
“An older worker has experience that cannot really be trained into a younger worker,” he said. “You can train someone with a skill, but training them with experience of 40 years or more for manufacturing facilities will be difficult.
“People are living longer, so they will work past the age of retirement more often,” Gerrish said.
Life expectancy at birth in the U.S. increased from 76.8 years in 2000 to 78.8 years in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among employed adults in the U.S., 39 percent now expect to retire after age 65, compared with 14 percent in 1995, according to Gallup’s annual Economy and Personal Finance survey.
In Michigan, the employment rate for people age 65 and older was 15.6 percent in 2017 and 13.7 percent 10 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Chuck Hadden, the president of the manufacturers association, said delayed retirement helps close the skilled trades gap a little, but isn’t enough.
Older workers can be an advantage for younger ones by mentoring and supervising them, Hadden said. “It would be a good possibility for them to be part of a fantastic genius putting out fantastic products.”
Hadden said he doesn’t believe the growing number of older workers hinders high school and college graduates from getting jobs.
Stephen Patchin, the director of career services at Michigan Tech University, echoed Hadden’s thought based on his observation of his school’s career fair held in February.
“The hire market is still very aggressive,” Patchin said. “We are hosting over 220 recruiting organizations for our career fair, followed by over 2,000 interviews.”
“We are still seeing robust demand, especially in areas of STEM,” he said, referring to science, technology, engineering and math.
Besides economic situation and health status, personal preference and increasing job opportunities are other reasons that older adults continue to work past retirement age, said Ginnie Smith, the project manager for Age-Friendly Grand Rapids.
“Some older adults want to stay engaged and active, and give back to the community,” Smith said. “They want to continue being productive.”
To work toward an age-friendly community, her program cooperates with employers and shows them the benefits of hiring older adults, she said.
Around 11 percent of the population in Grand Rapids is 55 and over, according the U.S. Census Bureau.
Last summer, AARP Michigan launched Experienced for Hire, a program that matches experienced workers age 50 and older with job openings.
The Department of Talent and Economic Development provides skilled trades training funds for employers to help employees, including older ones, gain cutting-edge skills.
“We provide environment for businesses to create job opportunities,” the department’s Murray said.
“Michigan schools are struggling to find people to teach career and technical education classes,” he said. “We’re encouraging our veteran people in skilled trades careers to consider a second career in the classroom, preparing the next generations.”