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Sloan Center News

Skill Gaps Urging Employers to Think Beyond “Age”

29 April 2011—Despite the number of Boomers continuing to work, their imminent retirement is raising the specter of skills gaps across multiple industry sectors. The US healthcare sector, for example, is disproportionately composed of older workers. Even so, a lower percentage of health care organizations have assessed the skills they anticipate needing as compared to employers in other industries (42% versus 54%).

Yet the health care sector is just one of many sectors that will soon suffer an out-migration of talent. What can be done?

Understanding the nuances of the “Prism of Age” gives managers an opportunity to be more proactive in recruiting and retaining skilled older workers, as well as promoting quality employment experiences overall.

First of all, when recruiting older workers or in trying to retain their talent, employers should not make assumptions of what these older adults want based on their chronological age alone. In fact, some “older” adults (individuals aged 50+) may, in fact, still feel they are in mid or even early career. In addition, even if an older worker may have had a relatively short tenure with the organization, they still may have considerable knowledge from previous jobs that is applicable and valuable.

Over a person’s career, one generally gains skills and knowledge with the expansion of their professional roles—these skills and knowledge then are what we consider as career stage, or career “age.” Today, though, a person’s career path does not follow a linear, lock-step progression. It is possible that younger workers might advance more quickly and therefore already be in mid or even late-career. Alternatively, older adults who are re-careering might bring extensive work experience to the job but still be early career.

Basically, not everyone is the same. As a recent participant from our Beyond Age Workshop stated:
  “My early career was about experience and education. I am beyond that point in my life, but not to the point of seeking retirement. I am still working hard to advance my career.”

So for employers, considering where a person is in their career has implications for approaching prospective hires and for meeting the needs of current employees.

Prism of Age
Chronological age—the number of years that you have lived.

Generational Age—a group of individuals born during a certain time period (e.g. Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomer, The silent Generation).

Physical Age—relative to one's health impact's one's life expectancy or ability to carry out daily tasks.

Social Age—how old society perceives you to be; common references include "40 is the new 30."

Life Stage (Age)—how important events and/or transitional experiences shape major life roles.

Tenure (Age)—the number of years that you have worked for your employer.

Career Stage (Age)—a way to describe a person's stage in their career.

Relative Age—how old a person feels, comparatively, in a group context; at the workplace this could be a department or team.

Subjective Age—backs up the saying, "you are only as old as you feel." This stage reminds us that employees' sense of their own age might be different from their chronological age.

A person’s tenure, or how long an employee has been with an organization, raises similar considerations. Tenure is important because it refers to the organization-specific knowledge that an individual has accumulated over time. Often, this knowledge is indispensable to employers, though unfortunately when workers are laid off, change jobs, or retire it is often lost. For example, for a HR representative, hearing an employee express the following should trigger thoughts about knowledge transfer plans:

  “I'd like to be able to retire by age 62, and possibly down-shift my career to a less-demanding job (and lower salary) at age 55, so that I can have more time to travel, etc. before age 62.” (Beyond Age Workshop participant)

Yet despite the pressures of age on businesses, employers are just now adjusting their succession planning to complement the dimensions of career stage and tenure. In our Talent Management and the Prism of Age Case Study, we interviewed some of the companies who have created innovative knowledge transfer programs to retain critical information in their organizations. Fidelity Investments, for example, recognized through firm-wide succession planning discussions that they had a gap of employees who could move from the mid-manager level into Director and eventually Vice President level positions. Since Fidelity is committed to promoting from within, the concern was that they did not have the right people to fill future leadership roles. Realizing that promoting someone into a leadership role and expecting them to succeed was not enough so they created the General Management Apprenticeship program (GMA) to groom their future leaders and give them tools for success.

case example—deloitte: talent management


The “corporate ladder” has been the traditional work experience but that is a singular path which can limit an individual to either move up or stop moving. This career development concept also assumes that an individual’s needs and desires remain constant over time. Business leaders have had to respond to the effects these changes are having on the workplace and are adjusting their policies.

For example, Deloitte offers their employees a “corporate lattice” model over multiple paths for growth. At any given time, an individual can move faster, slower or change directions adjusting as a worker’s needs change over time, and offering employees a better career-life fit. Deloitte uses a lattice metaphor instead of a ladder because it better reflects the varied ways an individual can develop and progress over time. Deloitte’s Mass Career Customization (MCC) Program is an organizational “framework” that allows each individual to collaborate with his manager to customize career paths over time. The framework is based on four dimensions: pace, workload, location/schedule and role.

Read more from the Talent Management and the Prism of Age Case Study »

Read more on the Prism of Age at:
Pitt-Catsouphes, M., Matz-Costa, C., & Brown, M. (2010). The prism of age: Managing age diversity at the 21st century workplace. In S. Tyson, & E. Parry (Eds.), Managing an Age Diverse Workforce (pp. 80-94). London: Palgrave Macmillan.



Innovations in the Management of Time & Place of Work

is your company at the forefront of innovative hr practices?


The Sloan Center on Aging & Work is seeking to partner with up to 6 employers to design, implement, and pilot test the effectiveness of HR programs offering supervisors and employees more choice and control over “when, where, how, and how much they work” (or Time and Place Management—TPM).

Participation in this collaboration will be at no cost to employers.

join the innovations in the management of time & place of work study


For more information contact:
Samantha Greenfield
greenfis@bc.edu | (617) 552-9177

The Study will also leverage data that employers already possess to create value for the organization, similar to suggestions from a recent McKinsey & Co. report.

Benefits to employers who join this study include:

  • Coaching and technical assistance with the design and implementation of a TPM policy or program.
  • Resources and tools dedicated to supporting the initiative.
  • Confidential, custom report of findings for further evaluation and improvement within the organization.
  • Opportunities to sponsor business-oriented products, including practitioner tools and research briefs.
  • Assistance with media requests about the study, should the organizations be interested.