NORTH ADAMS -- Employees aged 55 and older make up nearly 21 percent of the workforce in Berkshire County, and that number is only expected to increase with baby boomers remaining on the job after the traditional retirement age of 65 becomes the norm.
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright joined with officials from Elder Services of the Berkshires and the Berkshire Country Regional Employment Board on Monday at City Hall to honor the area's older workers by signing a proclamation recognizing "National Employ Older Workers Week," which runs through Friday.
"At this time of year, we gather together to recognize the value and contributions of the older workers in our community," said Roger Suters, director of community service programs for Elder Services. "People are not often aware that older workers, over the years, have made significant contributions to our communities and to society. Michelangelo didn't start the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel until he was 59. Isaac Newton became the first knighted scientist at the age of 52. Nelson Mandela became president at 72. Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal at the age of 78."
He added that labor statistics show the significant economic impact older workers have in the Berkshires and the need for local employers strive to keep them in the workforce with gainful employment opportunities.
"That's despite the fact that not many years ago, when people hit 55, it was almost a bulls-eye
To help keep older employees in the local workforce, Elder Services administers the county's Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which provides on-the-job skills training to individuals 55 or older with limited financial resources. The program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor. Participants are placed in paid community service positions for a maximum of 20 hours per week.
Regional Employment Board Executive Director Heather Boulger said with such a large percentage of the county's workforce being over the age of 55, they play a significant role in whether or not the county will experience a labor shortage in the near future -- as more and more baby boomers decide whether to retire.
"We have the second-oldest community in the state," she said. "Cape Cod has the oldest community."
Alcombright said that it is often too easy to overlook the value of older employees.
"When I first started working at [Hoosac Bank] in 1973, I think what was so astounding was the number of people working there who were in their 60s," he said. "For me, I was a kid; they were like mothers and sometimes grandmothers. What I learned was that they, these older workers, bring so much to the workplace with respect to their knowledge, their integrity and their work ethic. What I learned from those people was invaluable. I'm hoping -- as we age out -- that younger employees can recognize those qualities in our generation and learn from them."
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