About 500,000 Granite Staters over 50 continue to contribute to the state’s workforce, economy, and social fabric. In the now noisy norm of news and politics, our focus has shifted off of this group (unless, of course, we’re talking about its alleged drag on society). More than one-half million Granite Staters are as common as granite and just as solid. They are the answer to many of our challenges from workforce to innovation to economic growth.
Yes, New Hampshire is one of the oldest states in an aging nation. Our business community and political leaders should be concerned about workforce, especially with a 2.6 percent unemployment rate. We should be concerned about recruiting, training and retaining younger workers. But in the meantime, we must innovate by seizing opportunity and advance by maximizing what we do have. New Hampshire has an able, experienced and reliable workforce boasting some of the nation’s best talent. If we’re truly committed to innovation, efficiency and workforce development, shouldn’t we seek to squeeze every last bit of talent and potential out of our existing workforce to make us the best we can be today and in the future?
Experience counts, whether you you’re hiring someone in the trades, a painter, an office workers or professional. The “seasoned” lawyer probably knows fellow lawyers, the judges and court staff by name. The “experienced” nurse has treated thousands of patients. The “been around the block” banker can see potential beyond the numbers in your business plan. The “experienced” contractor or tradesperson can tell you what you need, what you don’t need and the reasons why. It’s the value of experience. We have it and we can share it.
One can’t teach raw talent any more than one can teach an athlete to have speed. An experienced worker, however, can help develop an equally important intangible: judgment. Everyone — laborers to lawyers — need to know when to speak and when to listen, when to stand up and when to stand down, when to hold and when to show. And every leader knows that to build great companies, one needs reliable and experienced talent to lead its teams. Ask any CEO in New Hampshire about cultivating and leveraging talent. Their answers should point to older workers — older workers mentoring younger workers and sharing their experience and talents. Do we not honor everyone – younger and older workers alike – with that type of intergenerational perspective?
So why are we not celebrating what older workers have to offer? Not everyone is ready to retire at “traditional retirement age.” Many are eager to work well beyond 65 – full- or part-time – and have decades of talent and dedication to share. Many have not saved nearly enough to retire and wish to work for financial reasons. Still thousands of others leave the workforce too early because they feel it is “time” (for any number of reasons), have health issues or don’t realize they are leaving the workforce too soon. If New Hampshire can change its message to this group, it can change its outcome for those good workers and the companies and economy that needs them. . . Combine these facts and a picture emerges of a rich resource that should demand much more attention than it is getting.
Yes, we must act on education, energy, health care costs, and the drug crisis, but not without an equal nurturing nod to one of our richest resources. The 50+ are working, volunteering, buying goods and services and offering their unique gifts to fellow Granite Staters. According to a recent AARP/Oxford Economics study, the 50+ in our state account for 50 percent of the GDP, hold 456,000 jobs and pay $3.3 billion in taxes. Shouldn’t we view them as a “financial breakwater” and not a “tsunami?”
Age matters because age matters. Our policies and priorities need to reflect that fact. In light of our 2.6 percent unemployment rate, we should explore innovative ways to leverage the talent pool we have today to build the New Hampshire we want for tomorrow. Innovation – whether in source (the 50+) or targeting (policies tapping the full talent of the 50+) is age-blind. Talent is talent.
Let’s celebrate our experienced workforce and stop bemoaning what we lack. Let’s talk about, implement, and encourage policies to tap this resource (part-time status, mentoring programs, “emeritus” licensing status, tax credits for companies that use older workers to mentor younger workers in critical areas, etc.). By doing so, we honor our older workers and the contributions they have made and have yet to make, we strengthen our workforce and we become a more attractive place to live, retire and do business.
With thought, a new perspective and leadership, New Hampshire can become a model because of its aging workforce, not an inevitable victim of it. AARP New Hampshire stands ready to work with our elected officials, think tanks, foundations, government leaders and businesses to begin this important discussion now.
Todd Fahey is the state director of AARP New Hampshire. AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with 233,000 members in all corners of the Granite State.