The profile of an older man, looking at question marks

Can Older Workers Fill the Skills Gap?

I read a report in the HR press this week that recruiters are facing ever-increasing difficulties.  This is partly due to skills shortages and partly due to a drop in the number of migrants applying for work in UK.

Yet I have also recently been reading other articles which are about  older people in the workplace who are facing discrimination and being overlooked in favour of younger people.

Is it just me, or is there an obvious resolution to both issues?   We could give the older workers a chance to shine, instead of making the assumption that they “aren’t suitable”, “wouldn’t like it”, “are unable to change”.

The average working age is rising

The population is ageing.  People are living longer and fewer babies are being born.  So the average age of the working population is set to rise. Pension ages are rising. I know there is a great deal of debate about the rights, wrongs and fairness of this.  It is inevitable, though, for it to remain sustainable for the State to continue to pay pensions to retired people.  So people need to work longer and many want to do so anyway.

Nearly a third of the workforce in the UK are now aged 50 and over.  Additionally,  forecasts predict that one million more over-50s will enter the worforce by 2025.

So why don’t employers make use of these people who are skilled, experienced, loyal and have huge amounts to offer?

Age discrimination is rife in the workplace

My own father finished work at age 58 and could not find another job.  Yet he lived until he was 92.  He  remained active, lucid and enthusiastic right up until his death.  I am not saying he could have worked  until he was 92. But an employer could have had really good service from someone who had a very fine mind  – for at least another 15 years.  He was also able to pick up new technology and learn new ways of doing things and didn’t really slow down until he was in his late eighties. An employer’s loss was society’s gain, as he volunteered and gave great service to the local community for many years.

Of course, there are some older people who may have health issues and need adjustments or to work fewer hours.  But that is true of everyone, young or old.  We need to start viewing (and interviewing) people as individuals.  They may have issues to overcome which others do not have.  But they may also have the skills and experience you need.  If you think they “might” be suitable if they weren’t “too old”, then you should talk to them about your concerns.  Give them a try and you might get a very pleasant surprise.

What can an Employer do to improve the workplace for older workers?

Any employer can gain huge benefits from creating an age positive culture and joined-up approach to managing age-related issues in the workplace.

There are some specific management areas where your attention could be spent initially.  Areas such as recruitment; flexible working; learning and development.  But a complete overview of your policies, procedures and practices is always a useful exercise.

Recruiting  and retaining older workers

Recruitment , in particular, is an area where there is often bias towards younger candidates.  This may not be explicit – or even intentional. Careful wording of advertisements and training of recruiting managers will go some way towards helping you to remove age bias in your hiring processes.

Increased flexibility in working hours and other practices can benefit every employee, of course.  But older workers may be more likely to prefer part-time hours, in particular.  They are also more likely to be nervous of asking for flexibility as their fear of losing their job may well be greater than for others in the workplace.

Increasing skills and engagement

Many older workers may feel they are “stuck” in a role which has no interest or challenge for them.  But do you give them learning and development opportunities? If they have missed out on the opportunity to learn a new skill, but are keen and enthusiastic, then it would be sensible for an employer to help them to gain that skill.  The benefits are clear for both the employee (improved job satisfaction and engagement) and for the employer (skilled and enthusiastic worker, who is loyal and can also add life experience into the mix).

This is the tip of the iceberg and there are huge steps any employer can make to recruit and retain older workers, who will form the basis of your future workforce.   There are also enormous benefits for both the employer and their employees.

Watch this space as we will return to this issue in future articles.

In the meantime, if you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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