OKLAHOMA CITY, (AP) _ After Minthe Ballard left the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System, with 20 years of experience behind her, she kept coming back to the books, first as a library volunteer and then a part-time employee at Borders bookstore. She simply loves books, the knowledge they hold, the feel of their covers and pages.
``I enjoy helping others find what they are looking for, and being someone they can recognize from week to week when they visit the store,'' she said. ``It's very satisfying.''
And even though Ballard officially retired from the work force in 1997, she demurely avoided a reporter's question to pin down her age, her experience and attitude are too valuable for employers to let slip by.
``We want a diversified work force, because that enables us to be a more effective company and to better service our customers who are also diverse,'' said Suzann Trevisan, senior manager of specialty recruiting and retention for Borders Group Inc. ``Studies have shown that the better the mix of our employees, in which they match the community in which they work, the stronger our performance in sales.''
Tiffani Bruce, corporate spokeswoman for drugstore chain giant Walgreens Co., said, ``For a lot of our stores, these folks bring invaluable experience; they are usually good role models for younger workers; and they have excellent skills in customer service. And they also relate well to our customers, a large percentage of whom are older, as you might imagine in the drugstore business. It's good for them to have someone they can relate to.''
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers older than 50 is projected to increase by 34 percent from 2003 to 2012, a net increase of about 12.5 million workers. During the same period, the number of workers 16-49 years old will increase by only 3 percent, or 2.7 million workers. So experience aside, the sheer numbers involved would be enough to prompt companies to broaden antiquated attitudes of age limits, personnel managers said.
The AARP's list of featured employers continues to grow as well. The nonprofit nonpartisan organization, which provides support services for its 50-year-old-plus members, has formed partnerships with 13 nationwide corporations to provide job recruitment information for both potential employers and employees. The list includes Walgreens, Borders and Oklahoma City-based staffing services firm Express Personnel.
Trevisan said the relationship has proven beneficial: ``AARP has been a wonderful partner; they're wonderfully supportive, acting as our advocate as well and providing us with data, research, information and symposiums to help us to even better engage our workers,'' she said.
``We've always known and valued the maturity and experience that older workers bring to our stores, even prior to our participation with the AARP, we have actively recruited people beyond retirement age,'' Bruce said.
Express Personnel spokesman Sean Simpson said older employees ``have a lifetime of knowledge and experiences to share, which is an invaluable asset for our clients.
``They have a lot of institutional knowledge that is a real benefit, whether they're workers or mentors for younger workers.''
In return, senior staffers find flexible, part-time work hours and, more often, insurance and benefits they might otherwise miss. And for someone like Bullard, a discount on books, most of which she ends up donating to the library anyway.
The sales associate said she did not relish the idea of passing her days at home with nothing to do, away from the volumes that defined her career. ``I just could not imagine doing that,'' she said.
``And I've been raising my granddaughter, so quite naturally the extra income does help me put her through college. Borders' insurance coverage for part-time employees was an attractive perk also,'' she said.
``I don't think there should be a certain age that you're expected to retire,'' Ballard said. ``I keep active. I keep myself up on what's being published. I'm trying to get involved as a volunteer in the state Historical Society because I enjoy genealogy.
``Retirement is a mind-set; it should not be a rule.''