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Career Regression With an Older Workforce

When most of us think about developing careers, we think of new recruits who are on the way up the ladder or those who are looking for higher placements within the organization. Some programs begin with defined pathways when individuals start working for an organization. In general, career development programs ask us to

• understand the workforce by taking note of the skills employees have and their desires for actualization
• monitor the workforce for turnovers and new hire needs to identify opportunities for internal employees
• develop potential employees or internal hires with the abilities to fill open positions and new position opportunities.

While this approach is sufficient for up-and-coming employees, those who have been in the workforce for a longer time might have a different outlook regarding what their future development should look like. Organizations often overlook their older workforce, create environments to downsize older workers, offer voluntary retirement opportunities, or fail to regard their skill level in a fast-paced workplace.

Instead of organizations looking for ways to rid themselves of older employees, it’s time to use a formative approach to career development. Older employees should be able to start a new career development process that’s beneficial to them and their organization.

With the older workforce, career development should take a different focus—from moving through the organization to moving out of it. Not all employees want to leave the workplace immediately, however. Some might rather take a gradual approach. There are places within most organizations where aged employees can be placed to continually take advantage of the skills they do have. A career regression process is needed:

Categorize the needs of the over-40 workforce. Without discrimination, human resource professionals should be knowledgeable of the workplace needs of those over 40. HR professionals should know who wants to retire early and those who prefer to work to full retirement. Other knowledge should consist of benefit and health needs of these employees. It may be that some employees may want to leave with only health benefits from the employer, for example.


Record low-cost and low-responsibility jobs within the organizations. If the organization is aware of these opportunities, they can place older employees in these jobs. This allows valued personnel to remain employed, when capable, and maintain a quality of life that would otherwise not be available if their primary job was lost.

Monitor skill level changes. In a career regression process where individuals are preparing to move out of an organization, it is necessary to be aware of how the over-40 age group’s skills and abilities change over time. This information is necessary when finding placement opportunities inside the organization that have fewer responsibilities and less skill required when an employee desires to retreat further in the workplace. This also helps to place individuals in gainful and useful employment within the organization when an individual is on the verge of losing employment because of lackluster performance. Above all, this process should not be used to purposefully eliminate people from the workplace.

Maintain total costs of employees throughout the organization. Knowing the full costs and breakdown of benefits for employees allows employers work out savings for themselves and personal profits for the individuals when prompted by an employee’s desire to take less responsibility in the workplace.

Conduct career regression follow-up. Employers should continue to follow up with their older employees to determine desired changes in their pathway out of the organization. By doing so, employers might identify new exit pathways and potential cost savings, as well as maintain awareness of employment changes.

Create exit pathways. Employers should create multiple pathways that older employees can follow when exiting employment.
© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
ASTD Field Editor Carol Decker is an associate professor of business administration at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tennessee; 1.423.746.5270;
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