Employer Vita Needle Seeks Elderly Workers
It's an era in which older workers do what they can to hide their age on their resume out of fear of age discrimination.
But if you're applying to Vita Needle, the Needham, Mass.-based, needle manufacturer, the hiring managers would consider it an asset if you remember what it's like to use a typewriter or where you were when John F. Kennedy was shot. Older workers are "loyal," an exec says, noting that the company prefers hiring gray-haired workers.
Indeed, the median age of its 47-member staff is 74 years old, according to a report by the AARP. The company is even willing to employ workers who have entered their second century, counting 100-year old Rosa Finnegan (pictured above) among its floor workers. And many of these older workers not only take needle orders, but they also do manual work like shipping packages.
Their employment is in step with Americans who are past retirement age staying in the workforce in greater numbers, as the financial crisis has led to layoffs and gutted many workers' 401(k) plans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the over-65 workforce is projected to grow 64 percent, to 12 million, by 2020. That means 7.4 percent of the workforce will be past age 65, more than double what it was in 2000, according to The Boston Globe. But unemployment among the over-55 set is high; about 55 percent of jobless seniors have been without work for more than six months, according to government figures.
The Hartman family, now into its fifth generation of running the business they founded in 1932, considers its senior citizen workforce a major reason for its success.
"The older workers are loyal; many have worked here 10 to 15 years and feel a sense of community. They also feel pride that their finished product is often used in medical applications that can save someone's life or make it better," Frederick Hartman II, the company's 29-year-old director of marketing and engineering, told the AARP Bulletin. Frederick represents the fifth generation of Hartmans working for the company.
He does concede his staff might not always be the most rapid on the job, but "quality of work compensates for slower speed. Attention to detail is also better. Damage to the company's reputation is hard to repair." His father, also named Frederick, and the company's president, has told The New York Times that the company's senior citizen workers are eligible for Medicare and work part-time, so therefore he saves on medical insurance. (The company declined an interview request from AOL Jobs.)
Vita Needle brings in gross sales of $11 million a year. And it does so working with equipment that is of a similar vintage as its workers. The factory, for instance, only offers manual drills, according to the Boston Globe.
Still, the company has demonstrated an ability to keep up with the demands of the market; Vita Needle shifted away from hypodermic needles when sales took a dive during the AIDS crisis, and moved into production of tubing, lab instrument parts and firefighter equipment, among other products.
The company says the practice of hiring older workers took off in the '80s when there was a labor shortage, so Vita Needle turned to older workers for part-time help.
Indeed, it's the rare workplace that can celebrate one of its workers turning 100 years old on the job.
But just this past year, the factory marked Finnegan's hitting the century mark by rolling out a cake onto the factory floor.
"I'd rather be here than almost anywhere," she told the Christian Science Monitor. "You feel like you're still a worthwhile person, even though you're old -- [you're] not sitting in a rocking chair."
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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