As baby boomers begin to approach traditional retirement age, the workforce is aging rapidly. But not all industries are aging at the same rate. Some companies employ significantly more older workers than others.
Just over a quarter (26 percent) of employees at Fortune 500 companies are age 50 or older, according to a new RetirementJobs.com study. However, the proportion of older workers at individual Fortune 500 companies ranges from 6 percent at AECOM Technology to 39 percent at American Airlines, the analysis of public records and employer surveys found. Airlines, utilities, and insurance companies generally have the largest proportion of older workers, while food and beverage companies typically employ primarily young employees.
Just because a company employs a large number of older workers doesn't necessarily mean it's hiring older workers. In many cases, companies have long-tenured employees who have aged on the job, says Bill Coleman, vice president of research and certification at RetirementJobs.com and author of the report. But the study "does give a sense of where older workers are and where many of them would be most comfortable," he says.
When a company has a large proportion of workers in a given peer group, workers of the same age may be more likely to fit in with the culture of the organization. "Consider this as a way of vetting or considering the likelihood you would get a job and be comfortable in the environment," says Coleman. "[These employers] understand older people and their value and benefits and they are not favoring younger workers." Many of the organizations with a lot of older workers have a strong union presence, which could help protect workers with the longest job tenure from layoffs. "When they have had layoffs and they use seniority as the basis for that, it will appear that they have a preference for older workers," says Barry Bluestone, a political economy professor and director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, who is not affiliated with the RetirementJobs study.
Forest products company Weyerhaeuser, where approximately 37 percent of employees are age 50 or older, has made a conscious effort to retain older workers. "We view it as a competitive advantage to have people with more experience because there is a great deal of knowledge and expertise that goes into our field," says Bruce Amundson, a spokesperson for Weyerhaeuser. "We have developed retention plans and benefits packages that we offer to incent people to stay in the workforce longer." However, the company also realizes that the baby boomers will eventually retire and will have to be to be replaced by younger workers. "There are opportunities for a young, high-potential person to come in here and see their career path move up much quicker than if they were among peers their own age group," Amundson says.
Companies without many older workers aren't necessarily making a deliberate effort not to hire them, says Coleman. "The reason those companies rate low on the list is because of the nature of what they do or the nature of their organizations," he says. "Places like Goldman Sachs have large numbers of young employees because they bring in large pools of people just out of college or just out of business school." Logistics company C.H. Robinson Worldwide, where just 12 percent of employees are age 50 or older, hired 450 new employees in the first quarter of this year. "We target entry-level, recent college graduates because our pay and positions are entry-level, but we'll hire anyone that has an interest in sales," says Eric Mesenburg, director of recruiting for C.H. Robinson Worldwide. "We typically hire entry-level and then promote from within."
Younger employees could use this list to find companies where older workers will be retiring, which means openings for advancement. "Firms see their workforce aging and they want to make sure they have a good team behind them," says Bluestone. However, older employees increasingly need and want to continue to work, so there is no guarantee that baby boomers will retire in the near future. "There are probably going to be more people leaving those firms where the prevailing retirement plan is a defined-benefit pension rather than a 401(k)," says Carl Van Horn, a public policy professor and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. "When you have the presence of a strong defined-benefit pension plan they have a financial incentive to retire that a person with a defined contribution plan doesn't have."