Summit at Stanford looks at challenges, opportunities of aging workforce | News


This week the Stanford Center for Longevity has been hosting the “Century Summit,” a two-day conference on the issues and opportunities facing an aging population.

The second day of the conference took a particular focus on the increasingly common reality of a “60 year career,” with a greater number of adults working not only past the age of 55, but into their 80s and 90s.

This conversation around lifelong employment, and the lifelong learning that accompanies it, spanned most of the morning panels, which considered questions around access to good careers, funding longer life, and how American companies handle older workforces as more adults find themselves with “60-year careers.”

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Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that these questions aren’t hypothetical — the number of adults age 55 and above that are part of the labor force has increased by over 2% between 2007 and 2017.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data set doesn’t offer much detail about what portion of that growth is accounted for by the population traditionally considered “seniors” — those over the age of 65 — however, population projections published by the California Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit suggest that it will be substantial, based upon the projected growth of the 65+ population.

According to those projections, by 2052 the population age 65 and above will account for 26% of California’s total population, which translates to over 11.3 million seniors.

Not only do these statistics predict an inevitable increase of seniors in the workforce based purely on that growth, but many seniors and adults nearing the traditional retirement age feel that they can’t afford to stop working.

In an introduction to the “Century Summit” panel entitled “Can more people have access to good careers?,” Ramsey Alwin, CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA), offered her experience working with seniors in this position.

“Mary, at 79, had worked hard, played by the rules, but found herself during the pandemic caught up in an online scam (that) drained all of her savings,” Alwin recounted. “So at 79 years old she came asking for help finding a job, a skill refresh, or resume refresh.”

Despite the less than ideal circumstances that led to Mary being in such a position, NCOA was able to help her.

“At 80 years old, she’s enjoying a great job and a great opportunity to pursue her purpose,” said Alwin.

For Mary, her continued participation in the labor force was due to financial necessity — with her savings drained, she had no choice but to reenter the workforce. For other seniors, they are incentivized to continue working for non-monetary reasons, including a desire for connection and community, as well as the feeling that they continue to have value to offer in the workplace.

However, with industries changing more rapidly than ever before — largely due to substantial shifts in the technology available and utilized within workplaces — even older workers who want to continue working can doubt their own abilities, even in environments that honor and value their experience.

Jamie Woolf, director of culture and learning at Pixar, reflected on the positives and negatives of the workplace culture for older Pixar employees during the “Panel on American companies and the 60-year Career.”

“We have people who have worked at Pixar for 20 years or more and are the pioneers of this industry,” Woolf reflected. “The young people who come to Pixar are clamoring to meet with these pioneers, it’s the reason they got into the field.”

“The bad news,” she said, “Is that if you talk to those people who are over 60, their experience is that there are so many young people in this field that they wonder if maybe it’s time for them to move aside and let the young people take their place.”

Even in a workplace where mentorship and respect between those that have been in the industry for over 20 years and those that are just beginning is built into the framework of the company, older workers may doubt their ability to keep up and provide value in a rapidly changing industry, especially one like animation which has had a dramatic shift in its technology.

“Because entertainment industry is so youth oriented, I think the ageism is just conditioned into the older workers, even though they’re respected,” said Woolf, “And then on the technology front, Pixar is really a mash-up of artists and technology — they are inextricable. I think it does infiltrate a person’s consciousness when there is a longer learning arc, because this person didn’t grow up with the technology.”

Despite these challenges, whether it’s due to financial necessity, personal desire, or something entirely different, the data shows that the workforce, as well as the population overall, is aging. With these shifts taking place already — and set to continue shifting at a rapid pace — experts like those featured in the “Century Summit” conference urge the public to prepare not only to accommodate older workers, but to recognize and celebrate that value they can bring to the workforce.

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Summit at Stanford looks at challenges, opportunities of aging workforce | News

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