Employers used to call them over the hill, but now they're "mature workers," and they fast are being recruited by personnel departments that once all but shunned them. They are senior citizens.
Fast-food restaurants, faced with a shrinking pool of teen-age workers, are aiming their hiring campaigns at the older worker, often retired people trying to supplement their Social Security income.
"The basic fact of life in America is that the teen-age labor pool is decreasing," said Jo Hutcherson, spokeswoman for Burger King Corp. in Miami. "We have been using seniors for several years now and the emphasis is increasing."
And other industries faced with the same problem are following suit.
Last month, Kelly Services, a national temporary employment service for clerical workers, announced a new program called "Encore," designed to recruit mature workers.
The program offers inducements to "mature" recruits, including flexible schedules, a chance to learn new trades and a place to make friends, according to Kelly Anton, executive vice president. More than 35,000 of the company's 525,000 employees are now more than 55 years old, he said.
'Lifetime of Experience'
"This fast-growing group has a lifetime of experiences, knowledge and skills to share with area businesses," said Anton.
For more than a year, Wells Fargo Bank in Los Angeles has been recruiting older workers as hourly, part-time tellers.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Wells Fargo has been retraining its own retirees on an "as-needed" basis at its 87 branches in San Francisco, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, said Larry Crabtree, vice president for Wells Fargo in Los Angeles.
In Hayward, a city about 20 miles east of San Francisco, a community group opened a temporary employment service solely for the elderly. The 18-month-old "Experienced Works!" service said 30% of its employees are now over 60 years old. Many have adequate pension plans but wish to stay active and use their training, said branch manager David Freeman.
Hutcherson said older workers do not have conflicts with school schedules and are not caring for young children, advantages for their employers over teen-agers.
Accident Rate Smaller
Another advantage cited by Robert Reid, professor of hotel management at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., is that the accident rate among workers older than 65 is about half that for workers in their 20s.
Paul Raab, manager of communications with Wendy's International in Dublin, Ohio, said older workers are experienced in dealing with people and are patient and reliable.
"We find they have a steadying influence on our younger workers," he said.
The hiring trend has the support of the American Assn. of Retired Persons, which has started employment programs in cities nationwide and co-sponsored a two-day "Experience At Work" conference in July in Washington, D.C., along with Kentucky Fried Chicken Corp.
A survey of 140 fast-food and full-service industries at the conference said firms who hire older works are pleased with the results.
"There is definitely a supply-demand crunch coming" because of past reliance by the fast-food industry on younger workers, said Donald E. Doyle, president of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
According to Steve Haugen, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, the labor force of workers between 16 and 19 years old has dropped from 9 million in 1981 to 7.9 million last year.