Ageing workers are key to filling skills gaps

The UK's productivity and skills gaps will not be filled by competing to attract only Millennials

As the UK population gets older it’s inevitable that there will be more older workers either available and wanting to work, or already in the workplace. By 2022 we can expect to see a natural increase of 400,000 older people (those aged over 50) in work.

We should look at this as very positive – more experience, expertise and skill in our organisations. But this alone will not resolve the issue of age bias in the workplace.

That’s why as the government’s business champion for older workers, in collaboration with the Business in the Community Age at Work leadership team, I have set a challenge to employers throughout the UK to increase older workers in the workforce by 12% by 2022. That will result in a million more 50- to 69-year-olds who want to work being able to.

We need to improve productivity and tackle the skills gap in the UK. The gap will not be filled by competing to attract only Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s), though they are a valuable part of the picture. Pre-Brexit UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) projections show that between 2012 and 2022 14 million jobs will be opened up through people leaving the workforce and new jobs being created. But only seven million new younger people will enter the workforce to fill these jobs. Diversity holds the key.

A diverse workforce is good for the individual, for business and for the wider economy and it is time we considered the skills and expertise that older workers bring to every organisation.

By 2020 Millennials will represent 50% of the global workforce but at the same time 30% of the UK workforce will be over 50. We typecast Millennials as wanting different things from employers: flexible working, rewards, a work/life balance, as well as intellectual interest. However, Aviva’s consumer research shows that workers aged over 50 say flexible working patterns, intellectual stimulation and financial need are the top three factors that would encourage them to stay in work longer than the state retirement age. And 88% feel they have more skills to offer than their younger colleagues.

Older workers can, however, face the challenge of caring for relatives. Around half the UK’s 6.5 million carers are juggling paid work alongside caring. Without the right support the challenges can quickly become too difficult to manage. Employees with valuable experience and skills will then either leave their jobs or struggle to cope in the workplace. From earlier research we already know that one in six carers leave work or reduce their hours to care. So we have a business risk of losing skills if we don’t listen to what these people need.

At Aviva we have been helping people protect what’s important to them for more than 320 years. To make the most of this we need our people to have empathy with our customers and understand what’s most important to them. This can only be authentic if our workforce reflects the demographics of the markets in which we work. Getting this right means we will not only be doing the best for our people, but critically for our customers too. It just makes good business sense, and gives us a huge competitive advantage. We live in a vibrant and diverse society. Our businesses should reflect that.

Andy Briggs is chief executive officer of Aviva UK Life