Older people searching for jobs have long fought stereotypes that they lack the speed, technology skills and dynamism of younger applicants. But as a wave of baby boomers seeks to stay on the job later in life, some employers are finding older workers are precisely what they need.
"There's no experience like experience," said David Mintz, chief executive of dairy-free products maker Tofutti, where about one-third of the workers are over 50. "I can't put an ad saying, 'Older people wanted,' but there's no comparison."
Surveys consistently show older people believe they experience age discrimination in the job market, and although unemployment is lower among older workers, long-term unemployment is far higher. As the American population and its labor force reshape, though, with a larger chunk of older workers, some employers are slowly recognizing their skill and experience.
About 200 employers, from Google to AT&T to MetLife, have signed an AARP pledge recognizing the value of experienced workers and vowing to consider applicants 50 and older.
One of them, New York-based KPMG, has found success with a high proportion of older workers, who bring experience that the company says adds credibility. The auditing, tax and advisory firm says older workers also tend to be more dedicated to staying with the company, a plus for clients who like to build a relationship with a consultant they can count on to be around for years.
"Some Gen Ys and Millennials have this notion of, 'I will have five jobs in 10 years,' " said Sig Shirodkar, a human resources consultant with KPMG. "We're looking for ways to tame that beast."
The embrace of older workers by some companies comes as the country's demographics shift and a greater number of people stay on the job later in life, some because of personal choice, others out of necessity after their retirement savings took a hit during the recession.
Between 1977 and 2007, employment of workers 65 and older doubled, a trend that has stayed on track and is projected to continue as the massive baby boom generation moves toward old age. But long-term unemployment has plagued older adults: Nearly half of those 55 and older who find themselves jobless remain out of work for 27 weeks or more.
Many companies still tend to overlook older applicants. Stereotypes have prevailed; hiring managers often still view older applicants as having lower job performance, higher absenteeism and accident rates, and less ability to solve problems and adapt to changes.
But Peter Cappelli, a University of Pennsylvania professor who co-authored "Managing the Older Worker," said research shows older workers outpace younger ones in nearly every metric. "The evidence is overwhelming that they're better, but hiring managers are just going with their guts, and our guts are full of prejudice."
Paul Lugo, 69, of Kendall Lakes, Fla., has felt that prejudice. After decades of work in business development and customer service, he found himself unemployed about two years ago.
"I've been to every mall, I've gone to the TSA, I've gone through thousands of applications," he said, "but I get the same thing: 'Don't call us, we'll call you.' "
Mintz admits his own age, 82, fuels his support of older workers. But he echoes Cappelli, saying he sees daily proof among the older individuals he has hired at Cranford, N.J.-based Tofutti -- fewer absences, fewer mistakes, a greater ability to solve problems and a willingness to put in more hours.
"They're loaded with knowledge," he said. "They can teach the young whippersnappers."