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Tapping Retirees for Contingent Workforce Needs

Tapping Retirees for Contingent Workforce Needs

By: John Rossheim

What do you do when your company is facing a high-level skills shortage, but you can’t justify an expensive increase in headcount just to handle one project or a seasonal surge in business?

The answer for more and more employers is to bring on contingent talent in the form of retired professionals -- an underutilized labor pool with vast business experience and institutional knowledge.

"We are seeing increasing demand for retired workers," says Chris Caldon, a senior vice president at Peoplefluent, a vendor of talent-management software. "Organizations are struggling with key skills gaps, and given the economy, they're hesitant to bring people back full-time."

In the 2010s, there’s an ample supply of retired business and technical talent that is open to taking a look at a term assignment. "Many professionals have retired, but they still want to be engaged in the workforce, and maybe they need to be" for financial reasons, says Karen Turner, a vice president of product development and strategy at staffing and HR services firm Randstad SourceRight.

What’s different about retired talent when it comes to sourcing, recruiting, hiring and onboarding? Here are nine fundamentals.

Don’t lose touch when your veteran workers retire. It’s a big mistake to let your most valued employees fall out of touch, just because they’re retiring. "Continuing engagement with retirees and alumni gives you a labor pool to reach out to," says Caldon. Lead the way with alumni engagement and you’ll derive a competitive talent advantage. "Companies haven't thought out the engagement strategy really well," says Turner. "They haven't thought out plans to prepare for departures and connect with alumni and reengage them."

Non-alumni retirees call for different sourcing tactics. The broader pool of retirees requires greater outreach than your own alumni. "You need to go out where your particular retiree population is, through online networks, partner groups like AARP, and employee referrals," says Turner.

Consider retirees for project-based work. Why bring on “young and restless” talent for a project that could be aced by a retiree who’s looking for a satisfying, limited-time project, not a career? Many retirees are interested in working -- perhaps 40 or more hours per week -- on a project basis. In the life sciences, this could mean crunching data for clinical trials of a drug or medical device, for example.

Older professionals can fill seasonal needs. Younger professionals may jump at a seasonal hiring opportunity with your organization -- and jump ship just as quickly if something longer-term comes along. That’s why seasonal gigs for retired white-collar professionals "are a much easier talent-acquisition proposition -- many retirees aren't looking for a full-time position anyway," says Caldon. Financial firms that do a lot of tax preparation may be able to hire retirees for the winter and early spring crunch, for example.

Highlight the value of decades of experience.  "My Fortune 500 clients need someone who's up to date on technology but also knows legacy systems," says Erica Oliver, a recruiter for Aquent, which specializes in placing creative professionals in contingent hiring roles. "There's a huge value in bringing someone to the table who has seen the ups and downs of the economy, who understands that technologies come and go."

You still need an effective match. Not every retiree -- likely an expert in her field -- can comfortably take direction from a manager who's probably younger. And not every manager has the knack for directing full-time and contingent colleagues who work side by side. As with a full-time hire, there's more to bringing on a contingent professional than just filling a seat with a skill set. Look for people who have mastered the art of the multigenerational workforce.

Don’t neglect onboarding. Similarly, a retired professional's work product isn't likely to be all that it could be if he isn't fully oriented to the project's role in furthering broader organizational goals. With a deeply experienced professional, a little orientation should go a long way.

Retirees may require flexibility. Retirees may think they've earned the right to be a bit selfish about working a schedule that suits them personally. Wise managers will make an up or down decision about whether that arrangement will work for the organization; they won't try to pressure retirees into accepting conditions they dislike. "Retirees may want to stick to a 4-day week or other nontraditional arrangement," say Caldon. "That can be an issue."

Beware legal and compliance issues. Yes, independent contractors and employees of third-party agencies generally come with fewer compliance worries than direct hires. But co-employment issues and disputes over the nature of the work arrangement can still arise.  "Employers are not as concerned as they should be with the regulatory compliance issues that come with contingent workers," says Caldon. "Staying on top of all the federal and state requirements is a huge issue."

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