When Michael Taranto needs advice on manufacturing, he turns to his 78-year-old production adviser, a man who got his first apparel-industry job in 1930. If an employee-benefits question arises, Taranto, president of Forestdale, Mass.-based Norwich Togs Inc., calls his 66-year-old part-time personnel director, who is a retired insurance agent. And when working out financial strategies, the chief executive officer huddles with his 67-year-old controller.

Retirees may seem like an unlikely labor pool, but their experience and willingness to return to work part-time make them among the more attractive potential recruits for small companies. Moreover, their ranks are growing: A postrecession wave of plant closings and mergers and acquisitions have added a high number of qualified "young" retirees to the job market. After a year or two on the golf course, these retirees discover that despite their early retirement packages, they really aren't ready for full-time retirement.

When hiring older workers, however, employers should remember that many group health-insurance premiums are based on the average age of the company's employees. With too many older workers, the premiums may rise quickly. Also, recent changes in Medicare provisions mean that an employer is responsible for primary health-care coverage of people from the ages of 65 to 69. On the other hand, retirees often carry the insurance and pension benefits with them from their former jobs.

To find qualified workers, employers should consider looking for recent retirees in other industries besides their own. When Taranto, for example, realized that his $5-million-a-year company couldn't afford, and didn't need, a $40,000-a-year controller, he took his problem to the retired comptroller of a furniture manufacturing business, who gladly accepted an offer to work 20 hours a week. In addition, many large cities now have not-for-profit placement agencies for the elderly, such as Chicago's Operation Able Inc., which recently helped launch affiliate offices in Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock.

Taranto has nothing but praise for his older workers, but warns that they are sometimes hard for younger employees to accept. "Too many of them think that [retirees] have already had their run in the sun," he says. But younger people, he adds, "can get carried away with unrealistic ideas that mean trouble for the company. Our retirees serve as role models. . . . We've found their conservatism to be healthy."