Aging Members Will Stick Around (& Keep Learning) Longer Than You Think

Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65. Many associations operate with the assumption that they’ll lose these aging members to retirement. But don’t jump to that conclusion—older members may not be going anywhere anytime soon.

According to a Merrill Lynch/Age Wave study, nearly 50 percent of retirees want to continue working in retirement. One-third said they have to because they need the money, and two-thirds want to work to stay mentally active.

aging members are here to stay

A bright future for aging members

But will these older workers find jobs? Yes, they will, said economists at Northeastern University. By 2025, the U.S. will have more than 15 million new jobs but only 9 million people of working age (18 to 64) to fill those positions. Businesses will have to bridge that gap with older, 65+ workers.

An article in Nautilus, where many of this post’s statistics and quotes were sourced, shares the story of two companies that welcome older workers. “We’re already experiencing a talent shortage in our industry, so we have to find ways of retaining our people,” said Dale Sweere, vice president of engineering firm Stanley Consultants. Employees eligible for retirement at his firm either work part-time or on a per-project basis while drawing from their retirement fund.

“The standing joke around here is that we throw a retirement party for someone on a Friday and they’re back at work on Monday,” said Sweere. At Goldman Sachs, a ‘returnship’ program provides training to retirees who want to restart their careers.

Older workers already make up an increasing segment of the American workforce. Between 2000 and 2010, the 55+ segment grew from 13 to nearly 20 percent of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The 65 to 74 year old segment of the workforce is expected to grow 55 percent between 2015 and 2024. By contrast, the total labor force is expected to expand by only 5 percent. By 2024, 25 percent of the workforce is projected to be senior citizens.

“The aging of America is not the crisis that is often portrayed in the media or even in scholarly papers,” said Richard Johnson, an economist and senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “Today’s seniors are healthier, better educated, and more productive than ever.”

65 is no longer considered old age. Life expectancy increased to 76 for men and 81 for women in 2014. “We’re going to see something we’ve never seen before—people in their 60s, 70s and 80s functioning at an exceptionally high level who want to continue working and remain connected,” said S. Jay Olshansky, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

aging members are ready to learn

Understand the employment trends in your industry

To prepare your association and professional development strategy for an aging workforce and, therefore, an aging membership, you need to know what’s going on in your industry.

  • Are workforce shortages expected?
  • Are employers encouraging older employees to continue working in some capacity to bridge that gap?
  • What percentage of aging members can afford to and want to retire?
  • Are aging members continuing to work? In what capacity: full-time, part-time, consultant, contract, project-based, or freelance?

What do employers and aging members need?

Once you understand the workforce needs of employers in your industry, your association can work with them to develop educational programs to train or retrain a skilled workforce. Traditionally, workforce training programs have focused on young workers, but given the demographic conditions mentioned above, your association and member employers must focus attention on older workers too.

Some of your aging members will retire, if they can afford to, but many will continue to work. They’ll either stay in their current job, or take on a part-time or contract position. Some may decide to enjoy more freedom as consultants or freelancers. But most of them, like every other worker in the world, will need additional training and education as their job changes and as they move into new roles.

  • What do they need to learn to stay in their current position?
  • What do they need to learn to take on emerging positions, particularly positions where employee shortages are expected?
  • What roles and skills are commonly outsourced or expected to be outsourced? How can you train or retrain aging members to take on those roles?

To start a conversation about your association’s aging members and the workforce needs of your industry, check out the action brief on the Aging World released by the ASAE Foundation’s new environmental scanning project, ForesightWorks. Another conversation catalyst is an episode on the Association Chat podcast, The Future of Aging, featuring Jeff De Cagna, FASAE, executive advisor at Foresight First LLC.

Lifelong learning is not only for the intellectually curious. You need to hammer home the message to your members—young, middle-aged, and senior—that, nowadays, lifelong learning is necessary to stay employable. Work with employers in your industry to ensure that your association is the place they and their current and future employees turn for lifelong learning.

Continuing Professional Development
future work skills
skills gap
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