Cape Is Leader In Elders In The Workplace

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Aging

“When I turned 80, I realized I needed to do something more than just face each day thinking about what I had accomplished in the past,” a senior worker at Oz clothing boutique in Barnstable says at the beginning of a nine-minute video featuring three employers given Age Forward Employer Awards last year.

Nationwide, nearly one quarter of the labor workforce is age 55 or older. On Cape Cod, that number is higher, at 30 percent of the workforce. For over 10 years, more than 30,500 seniors have been employed on Cape Cod, says Laura H. Roskos, senior community services employment program director with Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands (ESCCI).

In fact, the number of workers in the over-65 age bracket is rising while the number in the 18-to-35-age bracket is falling.

“This is a super big phenomenon,” Roskos says.

For the second time this fall, MassHire Cape and Islands Workforce Board and Career Center, in partnership with ESCCI, will give awards to workplaces that are senior friendly. The Age Forward Employer Award recognizes workplaces that value older workers and make the most of workers as they age. Last year’s winners were Orleans Auto Supply, the Dennis Council on Aging and Cupcake International/Oz Cape Cod. In the video Dick Fairbanks, president of Orleans Auto Supply, calls retired and semi-retired workers “a rich asset” that come to him with life experiences and life skills that are good for his business.

A young woman named Sam who works at the Dennis Council on Aging says that the senior employees at the council educate the younger ones—and vice versa. She appreciates the leg up the institutional memories of the older employees have given her.

So what makes an ideal work place for seniors?

“Workplace practices that are good for older workers are good for workers of all ages,” Roskos says. “It’s humanizing the workplace.”

Flexibility is key. For example, a person who is, say, 65, and has retired from a profession or business, may not want to work from nine to five for 40 hours a week. So a flexible schedule that allows that worker to work from home for a couple of days a week may be perfect. Some schedules might be built around the employee’s ability to care for an ailing spouse.

What if an employee is partially disabled? Again, a workplace that can work around that is ideal. Roskos points to an employee with chronic health problems who found a job at the Dennis Senior Center. “She loves it,” Roskos says. “She’s an integral part of what they do.”

It is vital to remember that not everyone wants to be the boss, not everyone wants to climb the ladder, Roskos says. If you give up that assumption, you can create opportunities for workers. So if you stop thinking a specific job is very low level, “then you might hire someone that’s a well-spoken, well-educated retiree,” she says. But if you consider the job “bottom of the barrel,” you’d say that person is overqualified and you would not hire that person although the job might be a good fit.

“People aspire to different kinds of work at different times of life,” she adds.

Another issue might arise with young retirees—those who begin taking Social Security at age 62 and have an earnings cap. In 2019, if you’re younger than your full retirement age of 66, you can earn up to $17,640 per year without your Social Security being reduced. When you earn above that cap, Social Security will hold back $1 for every $2 you earn. A full-time worker would have to find a job that paid no more than $8.19 an hour, and that kind of job may not be right for every retiree. So why not work fewer hours at a more interesting job?

This year four Age Forward awards will be given. Customers, employees and employers can nominate employers for the awards. Roskos hopes that a diverse group of industries will be represented among the nominees. A committee of five will go through the nominees, conduct follow-up interviews and research the companies nominated. The prize will be a unique blown glass vase made by Mike Magyar at the Glass Studio on Cape Cod in East Sandwich.

As far as integrating an aging work force on Cape Cod—“we are so far ahead of the rest of the country and the world,” Roskos notes.

Nominations for the awards will be accepted between May 1 and June 15. (Ballots will be released in April.) A breakfast symposium “Workforce for the Future” will be held on Wednesday, May 1 from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Terrace Room at Hyannis Golf Course. The keynote speaker will be Liz Vogel, CEO of Dots, Inc., an expert in human resource management. To register, visit The breakfast is organized by the MassHire Cape and Islands Workforce Board.

The Age Forward Employer Awards will be given during a ceremony during the last week of September—National Employ Older Workers Week. Specific information on the ceremony will be released soon.