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Since Nelson Mandela’s death on December 5th, there has been considerable commentary about his having assumed the presidency of South Africa’s first post-apartheid government in 1994 when he was 75.  Looking back on that time and South Africa’s subsequent course, Mandela was certainly the person best able to begin the nation’s healing process.  His experience, his stature, his optimism and his intelligence were essential qualities for the job and the time.  His age was irrelevant.  And, when he retired at 81, after one term, it wasn’t his age that determined his departure; it was his intention to establish the principle of democratic leadership by leaving the office for the next person, rather than occupying it forever.

Nelson Mandela was a remarkable man and fortunately, his countrymen knew that.  They chose him on the strength of his talents. There are an increasing number of high profile seniors at work in the arts, literature, government, politics, but there are also an increasing number of older workers in business, stores, hospitals, (45% of all RNs are over the age of 50), schools, and manufacturing.

Now heading into year three of the record-setting baby boomer age, we need to consider our attitudes about older workers.  According to the Administration on Aging (now the Administration on Community Living) there has been more than a 140% increase in the number of people working at 75 compared to twenty years ago.  As life expectancy increases, that trend is likely to increase as well, with more people preferring to remain in the workforce.

At the same time, older workers are expanding their technology skills to meet the demands of today’s job market.  Older workers are just as interested in using electronic devices such as smart phones, IPads, computers and the social media that go along with them.  In fact, to help people acquire new work skills, Massachusetts offers two employment training and job placement programs:  Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) and One Stop Career Centers.

If experience, reliability, work ethic, and knowledge are essential qualifications for employment, older workers bring those with them to their workplace. Apart from the question of fairness, consider that an older workforce pays for goods, services, AND taxes. If we hire or retain well-qualified older workers, we, and they win; if we discriminate against them, everyone loses.

Written By:


Secretary of the Office of Elder Affairs

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