By Leigh Ann Hubbard
“I only do this because nobody else will hire me,” the Uber driver said.
“Why?” I asked the back of his mostly bald head.
“I’m too old.”
“What makes you think that?”
“It’s always the same thing,” he said. “‘Overqualified.’”
For decades, he managed large shipping facilities. Now, the 60-something spends his days driving people around Las Vegas.
“I was a manager. Now I’m not good enough to be a supervisor?” he said. “I just want to do something useful.”
“We need to recruit more young people into senior living.”
“Boomers Are Innovative and Stodgy.” … Wait …
When I was in my early 40s, I considered changing careers, from freelancer to office dweller — and therefore dying the gray out of my hair, because, well, we all know. Job hunts and women and ageism — especially in creative or techy fields like marketing.
But you’d think the senior living industry would be different. It literally serves older people. It literally talks about the value of older people — about respect and purpose. It literally says, “Boomers don’t want what we’re selling because it’s not innovative enough.”
… While also saying, without hesitation, that we need to get rid of “the old guard” in positions of leadership — and that people over a certain age don’t have innovative ideas. Or are stuck in their ways. Or are lazy and content.
Hang on, but you just said ….
Why are we obsessed with young people? Conventional wisdom says:
- Our industry will go extinct without them.
- They have new ideas.
- They understand the modern world best — like digital tools and social media.
- They’re cheap.
- We can shape them how we want.
But what if … what if … these beliefs are actually holding us back from getting the vibrant, thriving workforce we want? What if they’re blinding us to the potential of people 40, 50, 60, and up?
Because the truth is …
1. People change careers.
It’s not like we have to catch ’em at 21 or we’re out of luck. And if we do catch ’em at 21, they may not stay forever.
A 2020 AARP survey found that almost two in 10 people will change careers at least once — starting at age 31, on average. “At an average age of 36, a quarter of people changed careers a second time.”
And it’s fair to assume that those numbers have gone up since the pandemic — what with the Great Reshuffle and all.
Some 53% of employed adults who quit a job in 2021 say they have changed their field of work or occupation at some point in the past year. Workers younger than age 30 and those without a postgraduate degree are especially likely to say they have made this type of change.
— Pew Research Center
2. Age can bring perspective.
Is it possible that in middle age and older, people tend to …
- Understand the target market better — could help us improve what we’re offering?
- Become more interested in the industry, given that they may have family experience with it by now?
3. Retirement, schretirement.
- Average retirement age in 2021: men, 65; women, 62 (Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, PDF).
- Percentage of people 65 and older employed in September 2022: 19.3%.
4. All the other stuff.
“But, but … young people have new ideas!” You know who can also bring new ideas into the overall industry discussion?
- People in roles such as caregiving who don’t have an avenue to voice ideas for wide consideration.
- People of any age who are outside the industry — fresh perspectives.
- Residents and prospects, if we’ll listen.
- Older people who want to volunteer or work part-time (or full-time).
So Don’t Hire Young??
I didn’t say that. But how about this:
“We need to hire more young people.”
“We need to hire more people.”
“We need to seek more innovation.”
“We need to invigorate what we offer as employers, to attract people to work here.”
Expand our thinking on age, and possibilities open up. If we’re not focused on age, we’re more apt to recognize potential in anyone.