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07-24-2018 ·

Consider the Unconsidered Worker

Today’s 20- and 30-somethings, the often-talked about millennials, attract a lot of attention on the job. But what about the baby boomers and Generation X?

A lack of education may be all that stands in the way of some of these “unconsidered” workers making a big difference in a company. While some boomers are semi-retired, many could easily fill complex roles in the workforce if employers entertained that possibility.

According to the Pew Research Center, in the U.S. today there are approximately 73.5 million baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and 66 million Gen Xers (born 1965 to 1980) compared with 72 million millennials (born 1981 to 1996). The fact is schools and employers need to be more flexible about what constitutes talent.

In the summer of 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor reported there were 6.2 million job openings, a record number. During the Great Recession, there were seven unemployed people for every job opening. Today it’s roughly one-to-one.

However, according to a February 2018 report by the National Federation of Independent Business, “Finding qualified workers remained as the number one problem for small-business owners, surpassing taxes and regulations which have held the top two spots for years.” In this struggle for talent, employers need to be creative about how they define the ideal candidate as well as how they build their applicant pipelines and feeder systems.

For boomers, rejoining the quickly changing job market will take a more purposeful education. For some, returning to work will answer the question of how to preserve savings initially meant for a much shorter life expectancy and retirement. Even Gen X has to consider the fact that they, too, will live long past the current retirement age; they face the prospect of how to create a second act for their work life before starting retirement.

There’s also an immigrant population of teens and 20-somethings working to get access to education. They face uncertainty, whether they are working as recent recipients of green cards or new citizens who will be the first in their family to attend college. The workplace is especially complicated for a first-generation college-goer. And while we hear the success stories, for many others success is out of reach. It can be a complicated maze, and as we potentially reduce Pell Grants for the children of families making less than $40,000 per year, businesses could step in to support these learners with subsidies to complete their degree programs.

There are companies starting to think about how to connect with the unconsidered worker. These employers have considered how to make it easier for people to transition from retirement, a first career or college into a new profession. The key is giving these groups access to education that isn’t traditionally offered to them.

For the unconsidered immigrant population, employers could look at higher education as a vetting system in which they identify, through competency-based testing, potential employees early in their college career and offer them assignments or internships along the way. By revisiting the old-fashioned concept of a finishing school (which taught etiquette and the rituals of upper society), colleges and employers could retool the model to get students off the sidelines and ready to work upon graduation. Apprenticeships combined with education, like the award-winning programs offered at Sacramento State’s College of Continuing Education, can ease them into a blend of school and work.

Mom Corps, which works to help companies fill their staffing needs from a “wide pool of untapped resources among people raising families,” is another example of leveraging the potential of unconsidered workers. Organizations like Mom Corps attract Gen X candidates who’ve worked in corporate America in senior-level positions.

Employers also could entice boomers back to work with a combination of education and a modified schedule. For instance, a 70-something might return to her former industry, take continuing education and contribute five or 10 hours of consulting (or hands-on work) per week.

America’s employers have jobs available, and the country has a plethora of workers. Employers need to reach out and offer (or ask for) help. Let’s start a conversation. Let’s give the unconsidered a new role.