Good Alternative: Why the Modern Workforce Isn’t So Mainstream

September 27, 2019
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Author: Stephanie Ludwigsen

Research reveals that older people are working longer now than ever before and a number of smaller communities, such as formerly incarcerated individuals and people living with disabilities, are also incrementally joining the workforce.

Alternative Workforce Brings Diversity to Organizations

Today’s labor pool looks quite different than it did just 10 years ago. As we march into another decade, the division between what’s considered the mainstream workforce and the alternative workforce is blurred.

Older Workers

There isn’t a definitive retirement age anymore — and there is no longer a definitive snapshot of the “average” American worker. Sure, 65 used to be the target date for hanging up your office cardigan, but in 2019, retirement age is simply the year when a person decides, based on his or her own criteria, to stop working.

Older people are remaining in the workforce longer. Reasons may include financial necessity, longer lifespans, the need for mental stimulation or passion projects. Thirteen million people ages 65 and older will be in the workforce in five years and this group will see faster labor force growth than any other age group. In fact, about 23 percent of 1,423 U.S. adults recently surveyed by the AP-NORC Center say they expect to retire after age 65, while another 23 percent say they never plan to retire. The research also revealed that about 20 percent of those aged 65 and over were actively looking for work earlier this year.

States like Vermont, Colorado, Minnesota and Hawaii are seeing a fast increase in older worker employment. Some of these areas are offering job training to seniors, while other organizations, such as the Associates for Training and Development, operate programs in places like Maine and New York that pay older persons to work in schools, hospitals or nonprofits so they can gain additional skills and network for next-level jobs.

Formerly Incarcerated

Another group making inroads into the labor force are those who have spent time in prison. By some estimates, one-third of U.S. adults have a criminal record and while more are entering the workforce today than in year’s past, they still face discrimination when it comes to hiring — a phenomenon known as the prison penalty.

In a new report called Out of Prison & Out of Work, which was released from the Prison Policy Initiative, 27.3 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are currently looking for work. Among the 25- to 44-year old cohort of formerly incarcerated, 93.3 percent of are either employed or actively looking for a job, signaling the desire to work.

With millions of working age individuals now out of prison and available to join the workforce, there are abundant opportunities for talent acquisition. To help align prospective employees and employers, the Society for Human Resource Management launched its Getting Talent Back to Work initiative, which invites business leaders to pledge to consider every qualified candidate, including candidates with a criminal past.

People with Disabilities

Nearly 20 percent of the American population has a disability. According to figures from 2018, 19.1 percent of people with a disability were employed, an increase from 18.7 percent from the previous year. While the hiring trend points upward, the employment rate for people with disabilities still lags way behind.

A report released from Cornell University called “Leveling the Playing Field: Attracting, Engaging, an Advancing People with Disabilities,” revealed that workers with disabilities have a lower job attrition rate as compared to non-disabled people. Further, in a consumer survey citied in the report, 87 percent of respondents said they would prefer to do business with companies that employed people with disabilities. These are just some of the reasons why employers are making talent acquisitions with disabled persons a priority.

As the number of job openings continues to increase, the need for skilled workers will only grow. More older workers, formerly incarcerated individuals and people with disabilities are finding opportunities in today’s job market — increasing the likelihood that the alternative workforce won’t stay alternative for long.