By Diana Olick D.C. Correspondent
CNBC
updated 10/11/2006 1:52:14 PM ET 2006-10-11T17:52:14

Vivian Burgess has all the answers – whether you're shopping at Home Depot for carpet or looking for insight into why baby boomers are staying in the work force longer than any generation before them.

“Our generation of baby boomers are very active – very active,” she said. “I'm not used to being at home. I get bored.

Census figures show that, thanks to the baby boom, by 2012 nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. workforce will be 55 or older, up from just under 13 percent in 2000. As the population ages, corporate America is watching its workforce and seeing new opportunity in older employees.

A study from AARP finds that 69 percent of boomers plan to work into retirement.  Some say they’re doing so for the money, but more for the activity.

“Smart companies are recognizing that all this brain power exists, why just let it go?” said  John Challenger, head of the employment recruiting  firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “That's real experience that can make itself felt in the companies.”

Another study by Challenger’s firm found that as of August, 2006, the number of workers 55 and older reached nearly 25 million, the highest level ever recorded. And that group is growing, while the younger work force is shrinking. Companies like Home Depot are taking notice.”

“Knowledge, experience and passion never retire,” said Marlon Sullivan, senior director of staffing for Home Depot.

And that's a good thing. Because not only is the mature workforce in demand, especially for retailers, but as the general population ages, mature workers mirror their customers. That translates into better sales.

“The attitude here is that they'll walk past a young person and come to an older person,” said Burgess. “They think an elder person will treat them better.”

Age discrimination lawsuits on the job have fallen 7 percent in the last two years. And studies show that because older workers today are healthier than ever before, they do not incur excess sick days.

Companies are offering older workers flexibility, even letting them work in different stores, should they want to winter in a warmer climate.

“The reality is that if you're a large company if you're growing, particularly if you have a large work force, by default you will need to better understand, appreciate and learn how to retain the mature work force,” said Sullivan.

For boomers, and for corporate America it is simply a matter of survival. 

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