Nearly 20% of Americans 65 or older were employed last year. This is up from 12% just a decade ago, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The trend continues where senior talent is growing as a highly skilled and reliable workforce. These workers bring experienced “tribal knowledge” into the work/production environment increasing productivity and allowing companies to meet certain diversity requirements. Reasons for this trend range from retirees’ desire to keep working, their need for additional financial support during their “traditional retirement” years, to shortages of highly skilled workers. Presently, certain skills, experience and knowledge are outmaneuvering labor arbitrage, and in some cases, better support of automation and flexibility in the production process.

The US population is getting older and general skill shortage trends are growing, similar to what has been seen in other market-leading, developed economies. Recent recessions have also weakened the financial position of some retirees to the extent they feel they have to stretch their official retirement dates beyond the traditional retirement age and are incented to keep working in order to maximize Social Security benefits at the age of 70.

Staffing Industry Analysts has published a number of perspectives on retirees in the workforce, noting there are important issues to consider when deploying an “age diversity productivity” strategy. First, it’s got to be thought through with some good workforce planning; after all, these skilled workers are not approaching retirement age, they are in the mist of it. Older, highly skilled workers have unique needs that range from special healthcare requirements (for example ergonomic and advance healthcare services) to social work/life balance support (such as attending grandkids’ events or caring for other ailing relatives).

In general, retirees are potentially more costly in terms of pay rates and healthcare costs requirements if obtaining them through staffing providers. They may also require more flexible work schedules in order to meet their work/life balance demands. Standard co-employment risk mitigation policies will apply for retirees and some other policies may not be applicable, such as tenure or retirement management. Hiring retirees also brings certain risks. Laws like ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) that set minimum standards for most voluntarily established pension and health plans have to be taken into consideration).

But in return, companies get the skills and productivity that fills their talent gaps.

Some organizations are now strategically taking advantage of skilled, retiree talent, such as that described in the Bloomberg Businessweek article, Brooks Brothers. In fact, older workers comprise more than half of the workforce at the company’s Long Island City, NY, factory — with an average of 30 years’ tenure. They appear to be confident, engaged and supportive contributors to the Brooks Brothers competitive practice. Playing important roles in terms of skill sets and contributing “tribal knowledge” on how to create productive change in the factory’s operations. For some high skill set requirements, senior “retiree” talent is becoming a natural part of a competitive workforce mix.