News flash from the June 6, 2004, edition of the Boston Globe : Baby Boomers (like me) in Massachusetts aren't saving enough money (like me) for our retirement and might have to work practically forever. Another reason to keep more seniors on the clock: As the population ages, there just won't be enough young people working to keep the rest of us happily ensconced in rocking chairs in front of the boob tube.
For engineering driven companies—which rely heavily on the knowledge and expertise of experienced workers—the future looks particularly dire unless something changes. Firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing are already planning for the day when huge ranks of gray hairs are expected to collect their final paycheck. In 2003, the Christian Science Monitor referenced a report by the General Accounting Office that stated NASA is facing a huge shortage of engineers. Currently the agency has three times more engineers aged 60 and over than it has engineers under 30. Some 19,000 employees will reach retirement age in the next five years.
To fill the void, NASA is spearheading programs that encourage young people to pursue engineering as a career. That's a good thing. They also surely will encourage some of the expected retirees to hang on a bit longer, especially in states like Massachusetts where the typical property tax bill is climbing faster than the cost overrun on the Big Dig.
But what NASA and others seem to be overlooking is the huge pool of engineering talent right under their noses: the mid-career engineer whose job just got outsourced to India or is simply looking for a new challenge at this stage of his career. Although there is no evidence that companies are actually biased against hiring older workers, it's difficult to believe that there's any real fear of a shortage of engineers when unemployment among EEs reached an unprecedented 7 percent in 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If these "older" engineers can't find jobs, who is going to keep even older workers on the payroll?
It's time that engineering-driven companies redefine their own thinking and expectations about older workers. Hire a 40-year-old engineer today and—who knows?—that person could hit the ground running and be a productive worker for the next 30 years, not unlike a top college grad today.
Sounds like a win-win situation to me.