older man wearing butcher's apron smiling at camera (Photo: Shutterstock)

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The labor market these days might not be so tight if employerswould look a bit farther afield for workers than the young. Andsoon they may have no choice but to do so.

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Related: Large companies' older workers a blessingfor small businesses

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A report in QSR Magazine points out that greaterage diversity in the workforce could be the saving of therestaurant industry, since the number of young people taking jobsin food service is shrinking even as the turnover rate inrestaurant staff is skyrocketing and the older population issteadily increasing.

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While teens in the restaurant workforce once outnumbered adults55+ by a 3-to-1 ratio, that's shrunk to 2-to-1. And althoughrestaurant staff turnover has topped the 70-percent mark for fourstraight years, on average, quick-service operators put thepercentage much higher—at 130 percent, according to Panera Breadfigures, and Chipotle says theirs in 2018 was 144.9 percent.

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But at the same time, the proportion of older people is growing.Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers put the 65+ portion of thepopulation at just 13 percent 10 years ago. Now, however, it's 17percent, and in another 10 years it will be around 21 percent—evenas the proportion of the population that's 25 and under, and 25–44,"will decline a full percentage point, from 31 to 30 percent, and27 to 26 percent, respectively."

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Other fields besides restaurants need more workers—light rail operators in Denver, for instance;census workers in Minnesota and Chicago, amongother places; farm workers in Iowa; and workers in general inVermont, which is offering a $10,000 bounty to lure workers to thestate and is one of several taking such an action—but the growingpool of workers right in front of employers' eyes seems to be, inmany cases, invisible.

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According to GlassDoor, boomers are the fastest-growing segment of theworkforce, although age discrimination—though illegal—is stillalive and well. Among the problems older workers face are risingageism, preconceptions that they're neither as capable nor asnimble mentally as younger workers, and that they can't cope withlearning/development and upskilling, says the report.

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Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at GlassDoor, is quotedsaying in the report, "Senior citizens today are healthier, moreengaged, and working longer than past generations. A 'gray wave' ofsenior citizens will be impacting the workforce in coming years,both in the United States and the United Kingdom."

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But employers don't seem to have realized that yet, with aGlassDoor study finding that ageism is "the most experienced orwitnessed form of discrimination in both the U.S. (45 percent) andUK (39 percent)."

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Chamberlain adds, "Employers who invest in relevant, accessiblelearning programs in 2020 and beyond will be best positioned toattract, retain and benefit from the aging workforce oftomorrow."

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.