Isle work force getting older, Census reveals
The number of older workers in Hawaii's work force will continue to rise as baby boomers age -- tracking a nationwide trend, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released yesterday.
Between 2001 and 2004 the percentage of workers 55 or older increased in all four counties, with the biggest increase on the Big Island, according to the report. Statewide, 15.9 percent of the work force was 55 or older in 2004, the latest year available, the report said.
But that percentage varied by occupation. In agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, 30.8 percent of the workers were 55 and older. For services other than public administration, the figure was 23 percent.
In educational services, 22.3 percent of the workers were 55 and older.
But older Hawaii workers were most likely to be employed by hotels and restaurants. Of the civilian, private-sector workers 55 or older in Hawaii in 2004, 15.1 percent worked in the accommodations and food services industry.
The report does not include federal government workers.
The benefits of an older work force include retaining valuable institutional knowledge and fewer workplace injuries because older workers are more careful, said James Hardway, state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations spokesman. However, when older workers are injured, they tend to stay out longer, he said.
But baby boomers -- people born between 1946 and 1964 -- will not work forever. And with lower birthrates among subsequent generations, there will be fewer workers to take their place.
In five years, 45 percent of state Labor Department employees will be eligible for retirement, Hardway said.
Because of Hawaii's tight labor market, the state is looking to fill current and expected future worker shortfalls by recruiting among the so-called gap group made up of older workers, released convicts, people with disabilities and those in welfare-to-work programs, Hardway said.
Another strategy involves training people already in the work force to be able to perform higher-skilled jobs, he said.
Altres, the state's largest employment company, is telling businesses that salary alone will not attract and retain employees. They need to look at other things that make employees happy, like their workload, work environment and lifestyle, said David Bower, marketing director.
And they need to encourage their employees to recruit new workers through word of mouth, he said.
Otherwise, as boomers retire, businesses could have difficulty finding skilled employees.
"That's what we're helping our applicant and client companies prepare for," Bower said.