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Tylor Taylor, CEO of Successful Aging Solutions & Community Counseling, writes that as we strive to create more inclusive and productive workforces, ageism persists as an often overlooked but formidable barrier. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Over the last century, the U.S. population 65 and older grew five times faster than Americans overall.

Not surprisingly, labor statistics reflected that growth — employment of those 65 and older grew 117% during that same period. And while many older Americans left the workforce during the pandemic as part of the “Great Retirement,” some now wish to “unretire.” With longer lifespans, evolving social norms and inflation all contributing to a societal shift towards delayed retirement, it is a trend that is likely here to stay. Unfortunately, a related and pernicious trend has also been on the rise: ageism.

As we strive to create more inclusive and productive workforces, ageism persists as an often overlooked but formidable barrier. Workplace ageism can manifest in many forms. From hiring, where job applications call for “tech savvy” individuals, to mandatory retirement policies and the lack of continual training, older adults are regularly discouraged from engaging with the workforce.

When older adults are able to get a job, age discrimination negatively impacts the work experience and organizational culture by creating ongoing job insecurity, lowered self-esteem and decreased workplace morale. This leaves little room or motivation for career advancement and has broader negative ramifications for organizations writ large. Despite decades of experience, the expertise and mentorship of our most seasoned workers are being left untapped.

Employers admit they’re looking for younger talent: nearly half say they’re worried about older workers’ technological skills, and a quarter acknowledge they’d pick a younger candidate if both were equally qualified. These actions not only make organizations vulnerable to legal implications, but also deprive them of valuable talent. Research credits older workers with staying in jobs longer, having a stronger work ethic and being loyal and passionate about their work. Older adults also play a critical role in mentoring employees as they learn new skills or transition into roles.

As the U.S. population continues to grow older, the number of individuals who will face ageism in our communities and workplaces will likewise increase — unless we take action. While the challenges are many, there are some critical steps statewide and local organizations and communities can take to make noticeable differences.

At the organizational level, we can work to ensure age is included in diversity and inclusion initiatives. Only an estimated 10% of diversity initiatives have age as a criterion. Incorporating age as a valued diversity element can be as simple as encouraging everyone on your team to take advantage of training opportunities through job shadowing or tuition reimbursement. You can also raise awareness by taking unconscious bias assessments in all areas, including aging, and using AARP’s guide to remove bias from hiring descriptions.

At the community level, we can promote a culture of lifelong learning that provides opportunities to refine or learn new skills. Here in Northern California, West Valley-Mission Community College District has launched a pilot program that addresses the intersection of aging, education and workforce development. This project will reskill older workers to prepare them for the modern workforce, increase the supply of skilled and certified caregivers to meet increasing demand and establish a Center for Aging within the district that will serve as a landmark for inclusion and equity.

We need to reframe our approach to aging by focusing on preparing to get older successfully, rather than preparing for retirement. I encourage us all to look more deeply into the cost of ageism. If we’re lucky, we become older adults. The value proposition should reflect the bright future we want to see for ourselves. Together, we can make that vision a reality.

Tylor Taylor is the CEO of Successful Aging Solutions & Community Counseling, a nonprofit direct services provider and community consultancy that collaborates with municipalities and institutions to offer an integrated suite of programs for people throughout their lifespan.

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