“Older employees set the tone for the entire business—they’re our greatest asset.”
Richard Aviles—Owner, Bridge Cleaners and Tailors

The Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center today released the results of interviews with over 100 New York City small business owners about using older workers to solve their staffing challenges. The results are published in a series of Age Smart Industry Guides that offer peer-to-peer advice from business owners in four major NYC industries: food services, manufacturing, family-owned businesses and nonprofit organizations.

These owners were interviewed on how they hire, value and retain older workers to meet their business needs. They share stories that illustrate the advantages older workers bring to small businesses—which make up 98 percent of all New York City businesses.

Small businesses in New York City, and across the U.S., face challenges that threaten their survival:
In manufacturing and skilled trades, a labor shortage is imminent. The average age of a skilled manufacturing worker is 56. If they retire as expected, economists predict a shortfall of 5 million skilled workers by 2020.
In food services, restaurants lose employees at a rate of 25-100 percent a year, disrupting productivity and reducing profits.
In family-owned businesses, fewer than half of owners who expect to retire in five years have a leadership succession plan.
Among nonprofits, two-thirds of executives anticipate leaving their jobs within five years; however, 69 percent of nonprofits have no succession plan.
These guides feature leaders among small businesses and nonprofits who value older workers. The Age Smart Employer Awards seek to recognize and honor such forward-thinking leadership and provide resources and support to encourage others to follow.

“The Age Smart Employers Awards are a culture change strategy,” says Ruth Finkelstein, co-author of the guides and director of the Age Smart Employer Awards program and Associate Director of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at the Mailman School of Public Health. “Many older adults want and need to keep working. At the same time, many small businesses struggle with staffing issues: current and impending shortages of skilled workers, high turnover, problems providing good customer service. The businesses we interviewed detailed strategies they use to hire and keep valued workers, including flexibility in scheduling, re-designing people’s work responsibilities, and pairing new workers with more experienced ones to be trained. We have a win/win opportunity for NYC.”

In all kinds of businesses, owners also described how older workers bring valuable knowledge and expertise, improve morale, retain institutional memory, and provide excellent customer service.

“Older employees’ values set the tone for the entire business—they’re our greatest asset,” says Richard Aviles, owner of Bridge Cleaners and Tailors in Brooklyn and King Garment Care in Manhattan, “They’re the most popular faces among our customers and among their peers. Older workers teach the younger ones about manners and respect that you can’t learn on Google or Facebook, while the younger ones help the older ones embrace new technologies.”

New York City’s small businesses employ more than half of the city’s private sector workforce. These businesses often operate without HR departments or sophisticated staffing strategies.

"Our businesses tell us how difficult it is to not only find the qualified workers they need but also to retain them and train the next generation,” said Elizabeth Lusskin, President of the Long Island City Partnership and Executive Director of the LIC Business Improvement District. “These guides are a goldmine of information on how successful businesses like our neighborhood’s own Rosenwach Tank, Penn & Fletcher, and Steinway & Sons are meeting these challenges, whether through training and apprenticeship programs or creating work environments that retain older workers longer."

The tips provided in the guides are practical actions illustrated by real life examples, including, among others:
Modify work assignments or environments as workers age.
Rosenwach Tank (Long Island City) moves workers to an inspector role once they can no longer do the manual work of building water towers
Cross train workers so everyone understands the business.
Architectural Grille (Gowanus) had their shop ravaged during Hurricane Sandy, but as owner Stephen Giumenta explains, “Thankfully people were cross trained enough in advance that they could jump in and help get things up and going.”
Offer flexibility and other perks.
Settepani Restaurant (Harlem) offer servers time off for acting and music gigs and is able to retain workers in an industry known for very high turnover.
Justin Collins, Director of Workforce Development, Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation says: “In the industrial sector, one of the common trends we’ve seen is an aging workforce, particularly in the skilled trades. These older workers can serve as such a valuable training resource to younger workers looking to develop skills, based on their technical expertise and their workplace experience. The Age Smart Industry Guides can help our businesses understand how to best retain and utilize these experienced workers, particularly when building for the future.”

“The Age Smart Industry Guides are the next in a series of resources for age smart employers in NYC who are looking for successful strategies and practices to hire and retain the workers they most value,” said Shauneequa Owusu, Director of Strategic Partnerships & Community Engagement at The New York Academy of Medicine. “We encourage them to go to to access additional resources and information. We also encourage them to apply for the Age Smart Employer Awards 2015. Applications are available on the website now and submission will be accepted through May 10.”

See Age Smart Industry Guides for a full set of the guides. Age Smart Employer Award applications can be found here.

The Age Smart Employer Awards are an initiative of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center and the New York Academy of Medicine. It receives funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
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For Immediate release
March 18, 2015

Media Contacts:
Geoffrey Knox 212-229-0540
Mona Finston 646-326-4607