Senior Page: Age Forward Awards Recognize Senior-Friendly Businesses

By: Debra Lawless

Susan Reilly, left, Marion Prendergast and Brenda Vasquez of the Dennis Senior Center receive a 2018 Age Forward Employer Award from Mary Conklin of the Cape Cod Community College Center for Corporate and Professional Education. COURTESY PHOTO

The nominating period for the Age Forward Employer Awards has been extended to Monday, July 1, says Laura H. Roskos, senior community services employment program director with Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands (ESCCI).

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 Awards recognize workplaces that value older workers and make the most of workers as they age.

The form is simple and entails answering two key questions: “Tell us about the ways this organization demonstrates that it values older workers” and “tell us how this organization’s older workers add value to the enterprise.” Nominations are accepted from employers, customers and employees. Basically, the group wants to recognize employers who are ahead of the curve in adapting to the changing demographics of the local workforce.

“It’s fun to hear from employees when they’re raving about how good their bosses are,” Roskos said in a telephone interview last week.

Once the nominations are in, a volunteer committee of five will conduct structured interviews of the companies. Last year’s winners were Orleans Auto Supply, the Dennis Council on Aging and Cupcake International/Oz Cape Cod.

The awards are particularly pertinent here on Cape Cod. Nationwide, about 18 percent 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, and 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. Roskos calls this “a super big phenomenon.”

This year four Age Forward awards will be given. Roskos hopes that a diverse group of industries will be represented among the nominees. The prize will be a unique blown glass vase made by Mike Magyar at the Glass Studio on Cape Cod in East Sandwich. The awards will be given at an awards breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Hyannis on Sept. 24 during National Employ Older Workers Week. Award winners will also be recognized in a short documentary feature film.

During a breakfast symposium “Workforce for the Future” sponsored by Cape Cod Health Care on May 1 at Hyannis Golf Course, a “hot topic” revolved around options for a phased retirement.

“Attendance was great, as were our speakers,” Roskos says. “Did you know that a bunch of Cape employers are currently struggling to figure out and implement some sort of phased retirement policy/plan that will allow them to retain workers who want to cut back on their hours?”

Many organizations want 70- and 80-year-olds to stay engaged with their organizations, Roskos says. So how do they do this? Enable seniors to work part time? Use seniors in project-based consultancies? Or bring seniors in during crunch times? All options are on the table.

Older people in the workforce may now want to pursue a different path from their lifetime career.

“A lot of older workers want to put their family ties front and center,” Roskos says. One way to implement this is through flex time. This can be important to younger workers, too. “The human-centric workplace has figured out how it can be for well-rounded human beings.”

Another way to work a phased retirement plan is to use a structured mentorship. A senior worker might share a job with a younger employee. This is also a method to prevent institutional knowledge from being lost.

During the breakfast symposium, Danyel Bianchi-Matteson, human resources director at Chatham Bars Inn, noted that she placed an advertisement off-Cape looking for older people to work as seasonable employees at the inn. She received a number of responses.

“Danyel finds they’re fabulous mentors to young workers,” Roskos says. Often the senior workers teach the young ones to have tough skins, to exhibit resilience and initiative and to solve problems.

And not everyone aspires to be the boss. When hiring older employees, interviewers need to be aware that if someone whom they consider over-qualified for a job says he or she really does want the job, the applicant ought to be believed. Let’s say a former finance executive from New York City wants a job cleaning the halls at Chatham Bars Inn. That person is to be taken seriously. Roskos said Bianchi-Matteson said some of her “most brilliant hires” were just such people.

Basically, flexibility is the key to working well with older employees. Roskos sums up these discussions as “an ongoing story for those working people committed to aging in place on the Cape.”

“Hiring older workers is more about good business more than about goodwill,” Chris Richards, chair of the MassHire Cape and Islands Workforce Board said in a press release. “Time and again, when we see businesses grow and thrive in the current economic climate, it’s because they’ve adapted to our changing population.”

To nominate a workplace for an Age Forward Employer Award, go to www.AgeForward.cc and click on the online nomination form.