Magazine article Workforce Management

Novel Ideas at Borders Lure Older Workers

Magazine article Workforce Management

Novel Ideas at Borders Lure Older Workers

Article excerpt


WHEN BARBARA KINZER began computer training on her first day of work at Borders Group in 1992, she didn't know what to expect. Having been out of the workforce for more than 25 years, she couldn't remember the last time she had been in an office, let alone in front of a computer. "They said, OK, Barbara, let's get started,' but I didn't even know how to turn the computer on," she says.

To her relief, no one laughed. Kinzer, 62, attributes her quick rise in the ranks at Borders to the patience that managers had with teaching her the ins and outs of technology and how to work a register. "They recognized that my biggest strength was my knowledge of books," she says. Today, Kinzer runs the corporate training program out of Borders' headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Recruiting and retaining older workers has been a strategy that consultants have been hammering into the heads of employers for years. The reason, they say, is that as the baby boomers begin to retire, there will be a shortage of experienced workers. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the pool of U.S. workers ages 35 to 44 will shrink by 7 percent between 2002 and 2012.

But for Borders, the need to have older workers goes beyond that.

In the late '90s, when online bookselling was sweeping the nation, Borders took a hard look at the demographics of its customer base. From that research, it discovered that 50 percent of the books bought in the U.S. were purchased by consumers over 45. To reach out to those customers and differentiate itself from the impersonal online booksellers, Borders created a formal hiring and retention initiative aimed at older workers, says Dan Smith, senior VP for human resources. "We found that they better related to our customers," he says.

Today, 16 percent of Borders' workforce is over the age of 50, up from 6 percent in 1998, when it started its recruitment effort. The book retailer has found other advantages to having older workers in its stores. According to Smith, the turnover rate for workers over the age of 50 is 10 times less than those under 30. Borders has seen its turnover drop 30 percent since it began its effort to recruit older employees. "These workers have a great passion to be connected to the community, and our bookstores provide them with that venue," Smith says. Also, since the work is often part time, it's a great fit for them. …

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