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June 28, 2021

Embracing Mature Employees: A DuPont Sustainable Solutions Study

Knowledge is attached to People.
„Knowledge is attached to People.“
Davide Vassallo / Chief Executive Officer at DuPont Sustainable Solutions

It is rare for diversity and inclusion programs to include age as a differentiating factor. Even despite aging workforces in North America and Europe, many struggle with hiring, motivating, and retaining mature employees. Yet, there is one company that has been successfully embracing older workers for more than 50 years; since 1968, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS) has deliberately recruited late-career workers to work on client projects. Despite the challenges of building an age-diverse workforce, the company has seen significant benefits from doing so.

About DuPont Sustainable Solutions

DuPont Sustainable Solutions recently spun off from the centuries-old multinational DuPont de Nemours, Inc., known more simply as DuPont. The former parent company delivers technology-based materials and solutions across a wide range of key markets. DSS was formed in the late 1960s with the main goal of externalizing DuPont’s experience and knowledge in managing safety, particularly within high-risk environments.  The company has since evolved into a world-class consulting business that helps clients to protect people, improve operations and deliver sustainability, with more than 700 employees spanning 40 countries.  

DSS partners with clients to develop solutions that support all aspects of their operations while setting up a framework to mitigate risk. These solutions are enhanced by digital technologies and data analytics. DSS has advised some of the leading industrial companies around the world.

Its diverse team of consultants features “seasoned experts,” including experienced line managers, operations professionals, project managers, technical managers, and digital natives. These professionals have developed solutions for a variety of industries, including oil and gas, construction, mining and metals, utilities, food and beverage, and transportation.

Recruiting Retirees for the Past 50 Years

According to Davide Vassallo, CEO of DuPont Sustainable Solutions, it’s the company’s business model was inclusive of older workers from the start.

“We recognized that workers who have 30 or 40 years with the company, and were still able to work, can provide much value for our clients. It is not just their operational knowledge that is pertinent; older workers have a sense of intuition as it pertains to operations. They understand and appreciate risk, as well as the unfortunate consequences that can arise when risks are not managed properly.  They understand that operations are as much about people as they are processes and data. Such insights and instinct are invaluable in operations consulting, and they are not easily codified or captured,” said Vassallo. 

“The idea at the time was to extend the lifetime of this knowledge and give younger engineers, younger operators the opportunity to learn from the older generation and to transfer some of the experience that they’ve built in along their career,” continued Vassallo.  

Today, DSS has a hybrid workforce in which 20 to 25% of the employees join after about 30 years in their field. These subject matter experts work on project teams and directly advise clients to help them better mitigate risks and improve the way they operate.

Benefits of Hiring Older Workers

  • Unfortunately, mature workers are often seen in a negative light, especially in this digital era. People assume they are all incapable of embracing change or using modern technology. Rather than looking to see how mature workers can benefit the organization, companies often ignore them or, worse, force them out of the workforce. Indeed, according to a 2019 survey by AARP, nearly 1 in 4 workers age 45 and older have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or co-workers[1]. They also found that roughly 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
  • Vassallo recalls conversations with other CEOs who say digitalization is a challenge in their workforce because some workers are “too old to learn.” However, for him, such arguments discount the many benefits that older workers can bring, such as: Enhanced soft skills. Older workers have often seen the importance of leadership, culture, mindsets, and behaviors in an operational environment.  Further, they tend to have a higher level of emotional intelligence and more honed interpersonal skills that allows them to better connect with clients.
  • Age diversity. Innovation is rarely the product of a monoculture; it is diversity of thought and experience that sparks innovation and problem-solving. Such thinking is not new – the value of dialectics, or the solution stemming from discourse between two or more opposing parties, was described by Aristotle and Socrates, and more recently, German philosopher Hegel. Indeed, the interplay between younger and older workers – and of course people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and gender identities – can lead to better, more holistic solutions.
  • Reduced turnover.   According to a recent survey, the key reason that older workers forestall retirement is because they find their work to be meaningful[3].  In other words, they are driven by purpose, one of the most powerful motivators to stay in a job. 

Beyond being advantageous for companies, including 50-plus employees even has a positive effect on the economy, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission[4].

A Closer Look At How DSS Embraces Late-Career Workers

Despite the benefits of a multigenerational workforce, Vassallo finds it rather odd that so many companies do not recognize the contribution of older workers.   

“It’s surprising to me that still in 2021, where we are sending rockets on Mars [and] we have a lot of tools and technological capability, capturing the institutional knowledge in an organization is still a major challenge for almost all companies across the world.”

Vassallo stressed that typically “knowledge is attached to people” rather than brands or companies. “You need to nurture and retain these people and make sure that they continue to be productive and they continue to have a material impact on the company.”

So how does DSS include older workers in its teams?

“The perfect mix is to have the senior experienced resources working with a younger team or a more junior team,” Vassallo noted. “Often, this is a team of four or five seniors and five to ten juniors. This results in a team that solves problems using both experience and the most innovative methodologies.”It’s a combination that creates “magic”.

“The magic is happening because the more senior people are recognized and valued for their experience, and the more junior people are learning. There is this learning circle that we are able to create in our projects,” Vassallo explained.

“So the blending is happening because there is someone that is excited about the idea of leaving a legacy, to share what they have learned in a long career, and there is someone on the other side, very eager to receive it,” Vassallo added.

Davide Vassallo / Chief Executive Officer at DuPont Sustainable Solutions

Managing Age-Related Safety Risks

There are some aspects of employing older workers that must be considered, namely, age-related safety risks. 

“We need to be honest. Age changes our capabilities. We age, we gain experience, but we lose some physical and sensory capacities,” he said. “This does expose older workers to risk, but by taking some steps such as running age-sensitive risk assessments, ensuring the work and the individual are well-paired, and that workplaces are adapted to older workers, these risks can be fully mitigated. 

Embracing Differences and Playing to Strengths 

Vassallo also spoke to WiseForce Advisors about what DSS notices in its clients when it comes to differentiation based on age.

During the interview, he drew reference to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compared the safety record of workers aged 35 to 44 and those 55 to 64.

“Older workers had an incident rate 24% higher than the other group. They do the same job, but the older people are injured 24%more times, and the severity of the incidents is 75% higher,” he said.

This is why one of the main pieces of advice he gives to clients relates to safety.

“In your operations, you have a risk which is related to the age of your workforce, so you cannot expect the same performance from a newly hired 22-year-old and a late-career 62-year-old worker. You need to understand that there is a different risk profile, and you need to be aware to manage the risk. If you’re aware, it’s easy to manage, but if you’re not aware, you can make mistakes that can cost the life of someone,” Vassallo warned.

The Importance of Recognizing Bias

Misconceptions about older workers persist, be they related to capacity for digital or even the inability to embrace something new. However, Vassallo pointed out these are often simply biases. 

“I know people that are wiser than me and older than me who are ten times more digitally savvythan I, so it’s absolutely a stereotype.”

However, Vassallo cautioned that employers also have a responsibility to use workers in roles to which they’re best suited.

“If I’m asking someone who is not a digital native to do a lot of digital work, it’s my mistake because maybe they would be useful in a different role. Someone with more digital skills could do the work in a fraction of the time,” he said.

“There is the tendency to consider all the workers the same. All the workers aren’t the same. There is a vertical distinction. If you’re a manager, if you’re a director, if you are a worker or a supervisor, those distinctions are pretty clear,” he said.

However, he also adds: “In the same category of supervisor, you could find a supervisor who is 32-years-old, and you could find a supervisor who is 62-years-old. You cannot assume that they will work in the same way.”

For DSS, each worker is different, but they all have something to offer. As Vassallo said, diversity is a critical factor in success.

Seeing 50-plus Employees as an Investment Rather than Cost

The other key piece of advice relates to a concern that many business owners have: mature employees are expensive. Vassallo has this to say: “Don’t look at late career workers just from a cost perspective because usually, they are more expensive. There’s a lot of what I call residual value inherent in late-career workers.

“Of course, you need to have a focused approach to this. It’s not happening just because you send a communication; you need to have a dedicated, focused approach to extracting value from late-career workers.”

Leverage the Potential of Mature Workers in Your Organization

Maybe you are not yet where DuPont Sustainable Solutions is, but you see value in fostering greater inclusion of people who are in the late stages of their careers. Maybe your organization does not currently reflect the demographic makeup of your society, or you think you need to reconsider your recruiting and retention practices.

When you attract and motivate experienced workers, your company will benefit significantly. Conversely, when you ignore people over 50-plus and simply wait for them to retire, you run the risk of hurting both your operations and the wider economy in which your business operates.

Furthermore, at a moment when many companies struggle to recruit, older workers have the potential to serve as a untapped resource.  The American Working Conditions Survey found that almost half (46%) of workers above 50 who were not working and not searching for work reported that they would rejoin the workforce if the right opportunity came along[5].   

There are simply too many benefits to hiring mature workers and allowing them to work alongside less experienced employees. If you’re ready to take the next step, but you’re not sure where to start, the team at WiseForce Advisors can help you.

We’ll begin by assessing your readiness to manage a multigenerational workforce with our Age Management Readiness Questionnaire. We also offer Corporate Awareness Sessions designed to help you identify and rectify any age-related challenges you’re currently experiencing. We also offer Age Management Workshops for Managers, which will provide your team with the tools you need to foster collaboration in an age-diverse environment.

If you need a customized solution for your business, contact us today at each out to us at info@wiseforceadvisors.com and schedule a consultation.

[1] https://www.aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/info-2019/age-discrimination-in-america.html

[3] https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9973-1.html

[4] https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/6-economic-and-social-benefits-employing-older-australians

[5] https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9973-1.html

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