Businesses Try To Stave Off Brain Drain As Boomers Retire Employers are trying to hang onto older talent by offering flexible work hours, more attractive health care benefits or having retirees return to mentor younger workers.

Businesses Try To Stave Off Brain Drain As Boomers Retire

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Roughly 10,000 Americans reach retirement age every day. Of course, not everyone who turns 62 or 65 retires right away, but enough do that some companies worry about not having enough experienced workers. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this report on companies taking action.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: For 33 years, Dave Tobelmann developed new products for General Mills - things like battered fish sticks and fruit snacks.

DAVE TOBELMANN: Make it look good. Make it taste good. Make sure the costs are right. Make sure we can manufacture it consistently.

NOGUCHI: Five years ago at age 57, Tobelmann decided to hang up the lab coat around the same time as a number of other colleagues.

TOBELMANN: Yeah, I went to a lot of retirement parties.

NOGUCHI: Losing veteran workers is a challenge, even for big companies like General Mills.

TOBELMANN: Let's say you have 30 people retire in a year. And the average years of experience of 30 years. So you just had a thousand years walk away. That's hard to lose.

NOGUCHI: The need is not across-the-board. Not all retirees are in demand. But the older worker brain-drain is a big concern for industries like mining and health care, which are trying to retain older employees because demand is increasing, and fewer younger workers are rising through the ranks. In a survey out this week, the Society for Human Resource Management reports a third of employers expect staffing problems in coming years. Mark Schmit is executive director of the association's research arm.

MARK SCHMIT: When you have large numbers that are leaving and a pipeline that is not entirely as wide as the exit pipeline, you'll have temporary gaps.

NOGUCHI: Take, for example, the insurance business.

SHARON EMEK: The average age is in the late-50s in this industry.

NOGUCHI: That's Sharon Emek, who sold an insurance business five years ago after three of the four partners reached retirement age. She then started Work at Home Vintage Employees, a company that contracts insurance industry retirees.

EMEK: It's a big crisis within the industry, where they're trying to recruit young talent and keep young talent. And the industry's constantly writing about the problem.

NOGUCHI: Employers are trying to hang on to older talent by offering flexible work hours, more attractive health care benefits or having retirees return to mentor younger workers. And more people are, in fact, working later either because they want to or have to. According to AARP, about 1 in 5 workers over the age of 65 works, compared to 1 in 10 three decades ago. Soon after retiring, Tobelmann, the food product developer, returned to General Mills. He worked through Your Encore, a staffing firm specializing in retiree placement. Proctor and Gamble, Boeing and other companies started Your Encore to prepare for baby boomers retiring. Tobelmann says the benefits for the company are obvious.

TOBELMANN: I already know how to speak the language. I know how the company operates. I know how the businesses operate. I know how they make money. I know how projects proceed. I know all the processes.

NOGUCHI: At Michelin North America, more than 40 percent of the workforce is approaching retirement age. Retirees have, on average, two-and-half decades of experience. Dave Stafford, who heads human resources, says last year, the company had to plan around losing most of a lab team made up entirely of older workers.

DAVE STAFFORD: If we're doing our job well, we'll know that there's a risk. We'll start to staff to compensate for the fact that that risk may come to fruition.

NOGUCHI: Michelin encourages retirees to stick around part-time, especially those in technical maintenance, where talent is chronically scarce. But it's not always easy to accommodate. Dale Sweere is HR director for Stanley Consultants, an engineering consulting firm based in Muscatine, Iowa.

DALE SWEERE: Sometimes they have a very limited number of hours that they want to work. And to try to work around their schedule sometimes can be a bit of a challenge.

NOGUCHI: But, Sweere says, the company has always offered phased retirement because experienced workers have relationships with clients that are valuable to hang on to.

SWEERE: It's kind of a running joke around here that we have their retirement party on a Friday, and they show up for work again on Monday.

NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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