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Access the Hidden Job Market

The U.S. population is aging, yet stereotypes about older workers still keep many employers from hiring and developing people over 50. Clearly, something's got to give. Consider: The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 13% of American workers today are over 55, and that figure will increase to 20% by 2015, but the percentage of workers aged 25 to 34 continues to decline. Meanwhile, the number of age discrimination complaints filed this year is up 24%, reports the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, making this the fastest-growing category of discrimination cases.

Aren't any employers making an effort to attract, develop, and reward people in an age group whose members, after all, have decades of solid experience in their favor? The AARP set out to answer that question and came up with a list of the 15 best places for older people to work. The researchers looked at recruiting (including willingness to hire former or retired employees), career development and training, continued opportunities for advancement, compensation, and health and retirement benefits.

Baptist Health, the largest nonprofit health-care organization in South Florida, excelled in all the categories, and won particular honors for offering flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, and compressed work schedules.

"Flexibility is especially important to people over 50 because, while many don't want to retire altogether, they often have major responsibilities like caring for elderly parents or bringing up grandchildren," says John Rother, the AARP's policy director.

Another of Baptist Health's strong points: rewarding older workers for putting their experience to work. For example, the company pays bonuses to long-time nurses who coach and mentor less-experienced colleagues.

Here's the full list of the AARP's honorees:

  • ABN Amro North America (Chicago)
  • Adecco Employment Services (Melville, N.Y.)
  • The Aerospace Corporation (El Segundo, Calif.)
  • Baptist Health (Coral Gables, Fla.)
  • CALIBRE (Alexandria, Va.)
  • DaVita, Inc. (Torrance, Calif.)
  • Hartford Financial Services (Hartford, Conn.)
  • Howard University (Washington)
  • Mitretek Systems (Falls Church, Va.)
  • New York Life Insurance (New York)
  • Principal Financial (Des Moines, Iowa)
  • Prudential Financial (Newark, N.J.)
  • Qualcomm (San Diego)
  • The Stanley Group (Muscatine, Iowa)
  • Ultratech Stepper (Torrance, Calif.)

If they're smart, plenty of other companies in the years ahead will want to take a look at what these 15 are doing to tap all the over-50 talent that'll be out there. While putting this list together, the AARP also polled 1,500 people aged 45 to 76 and found that 69% say they expect never to retire completely. Of those, 34% said they wanted to keep working because they enjoy it, 19% think they will need the income from part-time work, 10% hope to go into business for themselves, and 6% said they'll "work full time but doing something else." Asked what their ideal job would include, 76% cited flexible work schedules as "absolutely essential."

"People are living longer and healthier lives--and the baby boomers, who are now coming up on 'retirement' age, are better educated than any previous generation, so they're more likely to be in white-collar jobs where no physical labor is involved," says Rother. "People over 50 really feel they're at the peak of their powers. As they become an even more dynamic force in the economy, employers are going to have to find innovative ways to attract, manage, and retain them."

It's about time.