As the older population continues to expand, workers over age 60 will become increasingly important. Employers must begin to recognize the value that these people represent to the state's economic success.

State statistics show that the Utah's older population is the fastest growing age group in Utah - expected to grow 33.5 percent by the year 2000. That is about 1.5 times faster than the total population growth and 14 times faster than the below-17 age group.At the same time, the pool of young people is shrinking. There may be a national labor shortage in coming years. The economy could falter unless employers take a closer look at older men and women as workers.

About 25 percent of Utahns over age 60 want or need to work, the majority wanting to work part-time. In 1988, there were about 70,000 older workers employed in the state. However, state officials report that unemployment and age discrimination remain stumbling blocks for older people looking for a job.

Furthermore, those who can find work have often been forced into minimum wage jobs with no benefits. Many of those jobs are found in the service sector that has relied on the now-shrinking teenage population. There seems to be few "middle ground" jobs where older workers can earn a good wage and benefits.

Employers need to look carefully at whether they are guilty of age discrimination in their hiring practices. They may be only hurting themselves if they pass up seasoned, hard-working employees who may offer not only commitment but also the wisdom of years.

Older people who are unemployed stay out of work longer than younger workers, suffer a great earnings loss and are more likely to become discouraged and not continue their search for jobs. Such losses only cause bigger drains on public assistance and deny older people the dignity they deserve.

Employers should also examine what kind of jobs they are offering to older workers. Business should explore turning older workers into computer programmers and marketers rather than cooks and clerks. They should also evaluate how they treat senior workers once they are on the job. What's suitable for a teenager in his first job may not be suitable for a grandmother.

Gov. Norm Bangerter has proclaimed this week "Older Workers Week." We applaud opportunities provided through programs like the Utah Job Service older worker placement program and Job Training Partnership Act. Government and private industry will be helping themselves by finding more ways to improve the lot of older workers.