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Older workers' qualities can be a win-win situation

By Alan Yonan Jr.

LAST UPDATED: 3:32 p.m. HST, Nov 18, 2010

As she was nearing retirement in 2003 after 37 years as a nurses aide at Straub Clinic & Hospital, Milaina Felisi was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to do some traveling with her husband and spend more time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"I did look forward to retirement when the time was getting close," says Felisi, 69.

But four years later, the idle time was starting to weigh on her. "I wanted to do something to keep myself active. I said it's time for me to go back to work."

After short stints at Walmart and the YMCA, Felisi landed a part-time position at Target's store in Kapolei.

Felisi is one of a growing number of older adults in Hawaii who continue to work into their golden years either by choice or by necessity.

With people living longer and healthier lives, many older Americans feel they can continue to contribute in the workplace beyond the traditional retirement age, says John Rother, executive vice president of policy and strategy for the AARP. Others simply can't afford to retire because of insufficient retirement savings.


» Graying of Hawaii
» Boomers to remain politically powerful


» Over extended families: Hawaii's high costs and healthful living mean that more senior citizens will be cared for at home.
» Helping hands: Counseling and advice are available for at-home caregivers.


» Booming costs: Hawaii is unprepared for the costly combination of more retirees and fewer workers to support them.
» Keep working: By choice or necessity, many boomers will postpone their retirement.


» Unhealthy debt: The state has put aside nothing for the expected $10.8 billion in health care costs for government retirees.
» Changing care: Hawaii's future health care will feature more technology, fewer doctors.

Either way, AARP does extensive work with employers to encourage them to hire and retain older workers, according to Rother.

"In general we think it's good for people to stay productive, to stay engaged," he says. "It's certainly good for their own economic situation, but it's good in other ways in terms of their continued vitality and health. A lot of studies show you are much better off if you can stay engaged."

Rother says there is a "varied response" among employers to the AARP's campaign to hire and retain older workers.

"The service sector likes older workers because they are more loyal, more dependable, and can relate to customers better. But there are obviously jobs where it can be physically difficult for them," Rother says. "It's hard to generalize. Some employers have been very progressive on this and others not so much."

Linda Hoffman, a senior policy analyst at the National Governors' Association, says that despite the "known benefits" that older adults provide to an economy, many of them face barriers when trying to work and volunteer.

She applauded efforts by retailers such as Target and Walmart to embrace older workers, but said governors and other state leaders need to do more on the policy front to promote job fairs, training centers and websites geared toward that segment of the work force.

Target doesn't set a quota for the number of workers it hires in any particular age group, but rather aims for a diverse staff that reflects the communities in which its stores are located, said a spokeswoman at the company's headquarters in Minneapolis.

Jon Radtke, who manages the company's Kapolei store says Felisi, one of 20 employees at the store over age 60, is a role model for all her co-workers.

"She's fast, fun and friendly and that's what we look for," Radtke says. "She's a huge team player. She does everything: cashier, stocking shelves, guest service. She cares, and she's got a great attitude."

Radtke says he works to accommodate the scheduling needs of all employees, including older workers who may need more flexibility to tend to family responsibilities or make visits to the doctor.

That's a point not lost on Felisi, who has three children, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, and is a community volunteer on the Leeward Coast. The scheduling flexibility afforded by Target also allowed her to attend Heald College, where she graduated last month with a degree in office skills.

Felisi's new plan is to retire in five years, although Radtke says he'll believe it when he sees it.

"I can't ever really see her retiring though. Everyone loves Aunty Milaina. She's part of the this place."

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