March 24, 2017

Employers recruit older workers to combat ageism

Employers need to recruit a million older workers over the next five years in order to combat ageism and address the widening UK skills gap. So said Andy Briggs, the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers and chief executive officer of UK Insurance at the insurance company Aviva.

Achieving that target requires every UK employer to increase the number of workers aged between 50-69 by 12% by 2022. “There are 15 million people of this age group in the labour market, yet only nine million are in work,” says Briggs. “Many people aged over 50 want to continue to develop their careers, learn new skills, try new things and also share their broad knowledge and experience.”

The CIPD welcomed Briggs’ comments and has recommended five key things that it says should inform every organisation’s strategy to recruit and retain older workers. They are:

  • Ensuring they have inclusive recruitment practices
  • Improving the capability of line managers to manage an age-diverse workforce
  • Investing in training and development that is based on potential, not age
  • Supporting employee health and wellbeing across demographics
  • Embracing the talent attraction and retention benefits of flexible working

A critical point here is the one regarding training and development. A report carried out on behalf of the CIPD last year, encompassing five European countries (the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany and the UK) found that the ongoing training of older workers is key to their employability and success in the workplace. The report, ‘Creating longer, more fulfilling working lives: Employer practice in five European countries’, says it is vital that olders workers are given the training to stay up to date, particularly in fast moving areas such as IT.

Are UK employers doing that? Do they ensure that all their workers, including older workers, have access to the training that they need? Apparently not, according to research by the Government’s Department for Work and Pensions. Its 2015 report, ‘Employer attitudes to fuller working lives’ found that a main challenge for 21% of UK employers in terms of employing older workers was out-of-date skills and qualifications. The same number (21%) disagreed that training for older workers offered a good ROI, although 71% agreed that training for older workers does offer a good ROI.

The research also shows that participation in work-related training is lower amongst older workers and when it does happen, it’s for much shorter bursts.

And when older workers are engaged in training, it tends to have a narrow focus on the individual’s current role, rather than skilling them up for the future and a wider career path.

There are two problems here that HR and L&D need to address if they are to address the ageing bias, recruit and retain older workers in the workplace and plug the skills gap. They need to provide the training that older workers need, when they need it, and provide a good, ongoing career path. They also need to overcome the negative perceptions held by some of older people in the workplace.

Neuroscience tells us that the brain is much more plastic than we previously believed. We can all keep learning new skills, whether we are 15, 25, 45, 65…And yes, older workers can handle advances in technology and learn new IT skills too.

HR and L&D have a vital role to play here in terms of ensuring older people have access to the training and career opportunities that they need and that the workforce culture recognizes the contribution that workers of all ages have to offer.

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