Ignore the post-retirement talent pool at your peril

HR expert Emma El-Karout says retirees are thriving in the gig economy.

Technology is affording us new ways of living and working, rendering us more connected and potentially productive for longer periods than ever before. The very concept of retirement has become fluid. Many retirees are choosing to continue working beyond retirement, due to improvements in standards of health (generally) and a lesser focus on physical demand in the digital age. Flexible, freelance and on-demand work supported by digital platforms are great channels for retirees to find work that fits their circumstances, without having to directly sell or market their skills and services. These are skills and services that are of huge continued value to the talent market. 

Studies show that 70 to 80 percent of Americans intend to work after retirement, and over 50 percent of the US workforce will be made up of freelance workers by 2027. The rise of digital platforms is generating increasingly creative ways for retirees to generate income and contribute meaningfully to the economy well after the traditional retirement age. Given the skills shortages evident across the world, this extension of contribution should be welcomed by the HR fraternity.

As individual choice of work becomes more practical, setting one’s own hours, working as much or as little as one likes, all from the comfort of one’s own home, fosters a new working proposition. In addition to all of this, the amazing personal benefit of staying engaged and having the ability to do stimulating and exciting work is compelling. Furthermore companies would no doubt relish the continued access to the wealth of experience in the retiree segment.

More than 400 000 seniors are now doing gig work through such online platforms, according to a recent study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute. As they face longer life spans and traditional, closed mindset employment becomes tougher to find, seniors are turning to gig work. In fact, the gig economy has torn down the barriers to entry and significantly levelled the playing fields. The gig economy is ambivalent to one’s age, if they have the requisite skills to produce. For retirees operating in this space, there is no limit to what they can earn. Flexibility and autonomy over their time is hugely appealing to many retirees who are now able to work when they want to and not when they have to.

For retirees who feel they have been forced into formal retirement when they still have so much energy, talent and accumulated knowledge to share, the gig economy offers a new and exciting range of opportunities for them to remain engaged, active and relevant. And their skills are sorely still needed, either directly or indirectly as mentors and coaches to youth.

Older workers have long encountered age discrimination from employers who perceived them to be less creative, resistant to change, unmotivated and costly to keep. The digital economy has no such prejudices. Therefore, progressive employers are starting to recognize that mature workers bring a lifetime of skills and knowledge to their jobs and can be highly motivated and productive members in the workplace. Their ability to provide mentorship to younger workers who are searching for good role models should never be underestimated. 

There’s a big talent drain in most established economies. The number of baby boomers retiring over the next decade or so will exceed the pipeline of younger workers coming into the work place, with the skills to backfill the exiting people in deficit.

Access to specialised retiree skills on-demand may become an invaluable tool for businesses to ensure the preservation and continuity of institutional knowledge and preparedness of new generations of skilled workers. Smart collaboration workspaces where businesses and consultants connect on-demand over a technology enabled ecosystem can assist retirees or experts easing into retirement to stay engaged.  Such platforms will only be successful if they are smart, digital, and, most importantly, effective.

Retirees with high level of expertise willing to take on projects, can do so through those specialized professional platforms without having to leave the comfort of their homes.  They can even take on a mentoring relationship or two via those platforms and transfer the knowledge to the young and less experienced. 

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE (specifically Dubai and Abu Dhabi) have managed to transfer great knowledge through hiring expat retirees from around the world on individual contracts to develop their young graduates into leadership roles. They have successfully done this and so can South Africa in a less costly model if we can leverage on our own retiree skills digitally.