Retirement workers: the solution to the skills shortage?


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Status: 05/15/2023 09:28 am

More and more older people are working – many not because of the money, but because of the fun at work and social contacts. Can workers of retirement age be the solution to the skills shortage?

Kurt Marx repairs and maintains heating systems. He started as an apprentice almost 50 years ago. Actually, he could soon retire free of deductions. However, the service technician plans to continue working. Not for financial reasons: he likes the daily challenge of finding technical errors, he says. Above all, Marx wants to keep in touch with people. And he knows how difficult it is for his boss to find staff. “I’m probably not the exception, after all, specialists are needed,” says the 63-year-old.

“We have to see where we can get people from”

His colleague Berthold Schneider is 70 years old and works once a week in the warehouse of the heating and plumbing company Flach near Trier. The management makes a targeted effort to keep older employees. “We try to talk to the employees a year before they retire. And then we’ll hear if it’s healthy,” explains Günter Spaeder, Managing Director of Flach GmbH. “I often get the answer: I don’t want any more stress, I don’t want to work so many hours anymore.” But many could imagine one or two days a week.

Managing director Spaeder positively emphasizes the experience and calmness of the older employees; at the same time, the company is also taking this route in order to get access to the scarce specialist staff at all. “Due to the lack of skilled workers, we simply have to see where we can get the people from.” Five percent of the approximately 80 employees at Flach GmbH are actually already of retirement age. And management expects that number to increase.

Exploit all available potential

The development at the heating and plumbing company from Schweich near Trier is an example of a nationwide trend. According to the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the participation of older workers in the labor market has increased over the past 20 years to an extent that was previously hardly imaginable. According to the latest figures from the Federal Employment Agency, in September last year there were more than 3.5 million employees aged 60 and over who were subject to social security contributions. That’s more than a million more than five years ago. There were recently around half a million employees who were 65 or older and were subject to social security contributions.

For the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, one thing is certain: In order to counteract the shortage of skilled workers, all available potential must be used. “Older employees are already making an important contribution, even beyond retirement age,” emphasizes Anne Zimmermann from the DIHK. Here, the proportion of people in employment has risen sharply in a short period of time. In 2011, ten percent of those aged 65 to 69 were still working; in 2021 the share was 17 percent.

practice of early retirements completed

For Enzo Weber from the Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research (IAB), the reasons why older people are increasingly working are obvious. The retirement age will gradually increase to 67 years. In addition, the early retirement practice of the 1990s has ended. “Labour is scarcer today than it has been since the economic miracle, which is why many companies are trying to keep their people for as long as possible.” In a survey in 2018, more than 90 percent of pensioners named social motives such as enjoying work and contact with other people as their motive for working after retirement; financial motives also played a role for 43 percent.

For labor market researcher Weber, in times of demographic change, the greatest labor force potential that can still be tapped in Germany is in the group of older people. “If people aged 60 to 69 had employment rates like those five years younger, almost two and a half million workers would be recruited in the German labor market,” says Weber. He therefore formulates demands on business and politics: “Industrial and comprehensive concepts must be developed as to which job profiles older people should take on and how they should be qualified in this direction in good time.” From the age of 50, another wave of further training is needed for the last decade and a half of professional life.

The know-how of older people is valued more

The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce would also like to make even greater use of the potential of older employees and therefore wants to make the financial advantages better known. In this way, additional pension entitlements and supplements could be generated by continuing to work and paying contributions after reaching the standard retirement age.

The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs also recognizes a slow change in companies that the work performance of older people is valued far more today. “However, companies are still required to improve the framework conditions for longer working hours,” emphasizes a spokeswoman, referring to the Ministry’s occupational health recommendations on how a working environment can be created in which employees can work until retirement age and beyond.

There are natural limits

However, the potential of older employees also has natural limits – in physically demanding jobs, for example. This is what Stefan Sell, Director of the Institute for Social Policy and Labor Market Research at the Koblenz University of Applied Sciences, points out. In addition, diseases correlated with increasing age. Older people over 60 could contribute, Sell says. “But we must not give in to the illusion that we are solving this fundamental shortage of skilled workers that will determine our everyday life in the coming years.”

According to analyzes by the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research (IAB), companies that want to keep employees who are entitled to a pension primarily offer shorter and more flexible working hours and suitable work content. This is what the Flach company from Schweich near Trier does. Your 70-year-old employee, Schneider, likes to share his experience with younger colleagues. The recognition and the exchange with his colleagues do him good, he says. But he only works one day a week. He doesn’t want to work anymore because he wants to have time for hobbies and travelling.

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