Recruiting and hiring older applicants: Why proper training is so important

Posted by Erin Sullivan on Fri, 7/31/2015

There is often a misconception within the service industry that millennials make the best hires because of their adaptability to learn new technology, because they are new to the workforce, and tend to be more flexible. While it may be true that millennials may be more tech savvy than their elder counterparts, statistics show that the aging population is more reliable, less inclined to drug abuse, less likely to be injured on the job, are more productive, and have a higher retention rate than millennials. Many of the baby boomers are now beginning to retire and many of them do not have enough income to support themselves, or they simply want to work, and end up looking for part time positions.

As the daughter of a recent retiree, I can tell you from experience that there is little my father would love more than to go back to work. Being physically active and having a physical career for 36 years, he is not doing the whole retiring thing well. He is actually looking into finding part time work on the side to keep busy and remain part of the work force.

The point I am trying to make is that it would be extremely beneficial to begin looking hard at the older population as your target group for applicant traffic, as many retirees are proving to the workforce due to their extensive previous knowledge and experience. Statistics show that the aging population is going to continue to grow while the targeted age group (16-24) for applicants for restaurants is going to decline. Thus, it is imperative to seriously begin considering recruiting older hires to benefit your business and ultimately your bottom line by reducing turnover and increasing the quality of your applicant pool.

According to the Harvard Business Review, it is a great idea to hire older people, especially those that have retired because they tend to have a great work ethic and are already well aware of what they are getting into and generally are adaptable to part time or full time work and are not necessarily looking to move up in the company or for a huge raise since they are already retired. Thus, according to the same article, it is important to recognize the experience these older hires have and engage them based on that knowledge and experience. This recognition will not only give these employees a sense of value and contribution, but you could also learn something you did not know before or could possibly make you reconsider how a certain task is completed. Hey, the older the wiser, right?

So you’ve hired older applicants in the past or individuals who weren’t figuring out the POS system or another aspect of the job and are now hesitant to hire someone similar? Well let’s look first at how training was conducted for the individuals that weren’t “getting it”. Was training conducted in a group setting full of younger hires who knew the system or had prior experience? Was individualized training offered at all or was it easy for a new hire to be able to ask questions on how to perform a certain task? According to, older applicants prefer being trained in smaller groups with more involved training rather than a larger group format, which results in the older applicants being better trained and more productive in their position. Even more eye opening in the article is that many of these older applicants stated that they were not necessarily afraid to learn the new technology, but rather, felt the training was not enough for them to fully grasp the technology due to the pace and style of the training provided.

Thus, it is important to remember that not everyone works and learns the same way or at the same pace and you don’t want to discourage a good worker who is having a hard time learning the process simply because they were not able to keep pace with the training. Why lose a hard worker who is able to learn and keep the lousy hire who was able to learn quickly? Adjustments to training would not just benefit older hires, as there are certainly younger hires who would also prefer training in small groups and at a slower pace.

So what does all of this mean? It comes down to two things: really filtering through your applicants more effectively to get better applicants and then focus on bettering your training programs to retain these great hires. Re-evaluate your applications and see what questions you could remove or replace with more targeted questions, get to know more about their work history, whether they want to really be a part of the company, or just come to work and collect a paycheck, and ask about what type of training they benefit most from. By focusing on core questions in your applications that align with your business ethos, you will find the best applicants possible that will fit in with your business. Once those applicants have been found, retain them by offering the best possible training to those who request or need it by offering one-on-one training or by allowing the new hire to “shadow” or work directly with a training mentor. Sometimes it is good to shake things up and try something new, it couldn’t hurt to reinvigorate your training program, especially if the result is getting more reliable, happier, and more productive employees!

While it might be enticing to go after the millennial applicant pool, there is value to your business in hiring an older applicant. Considering all the data that shows the growing pool of older hires and how they want to be a part of the work force still either due to financial reasons or because they simply want to work, it is a great idea to consider this pool of potential applicants as this part of the population is only going to continue to grow. After all, who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?