· Features

Older workers could be your biggest asset

You might feel that older workers are holding your business back, but they could be your biggest asset

Thirty per cent (9.4 million) of the UK’s workforce are over 50. We have no fixed retirement age. People are working longer to top up their pension and they are then seen as a burden – overpaid, under skilled, less productive, and less flexible than younger workers. But we don’t believe this at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

Our workforce profile is unusual; many older workers started in the 1970s and 80s, but hiring dropped off sharply as the business struggled to remain competitive. In the past five years a resurgence has led to a trebling in sales and doubling of the workforce, many of whom are much younger. JLR’s intergenerational workforce encourages creative thinking in how to manage, retain and refocus its older workers.

According to the CIPD older workers provide benefits in knowledge-sharing, problem-solving and customer service. But a vast proportion of this group will leave work permanently, taking their skills and experiences with them. UK demographic change indicates a reduction in younger people joining the market to replace retirees, and reducing migration post-Brexit could further limit labour availability. Manpower planning based on younger workers will no longer be effective or acceptable.

JLR wants its approach to the ageing workforce to benefit individuals, the business and society. We have a four-fold approach:

Firstly, we invest in older workers to motivate and maintain productivity. Secondly, we have developed part-time policies to get them more involved. Thirdly, everything we do when approaching retirement planning has to be consistent with JLR’s values. Lastly, when people do decide to move on we do it in a way that benefits them, the local community and JLR.

The final point is crucial. JLR has always been involved in local communities and wants its older workers to transition to retirement in a way that has a positive impact.

Nat Wei’s research, Next Steps: Life Transitions and Retirement in the 21st Century, highlights three major life transitions we face – school to work, starting a family, and later life and retirement. While there is support for the first two stages there is a need for initiatives that support retirees and facilitate their transition into more fulfilling, flexible and productive lives.

Working with The Shaftesbury Partnership, JLR played a role in setting up the Envisage Initiative. The potential of flexible age-friendly working practices and exit plans for retirement-aged employees, which lessened negative productivity issues and harnessed older workers’ skills and experience, were explored. Seven pilot workshops were delivered in 2015/16 supporting 200 staff with life transition training.

The feedback was positive; independent evaluation showed many participants took significant actions. Most notably in the areas of commencing financial planning, taking steps to improve their health and wellbeing, and getting involved with volunteering.

Participants also became more confident in planning constructively for later life. Key features contributing to this were the reflection time the workshops allowed, the sense of participation and collective learning, and the realisation that “the answers to your questions are in the room”. The value of completing the workshop with a partner was also stressed, with some participants recognising that it was the first time they had engaged together in considering their future lives.

Taking part in workshops earlier than traditional pre-retirement courses enabled workers to consider retirement as a transition rather than a cliff edge, allowing them to plan activities such as volunteering and community work that help them to continue contributing to society.

This initiative has been beneficial to our business, our older employees, their families, and the wider community, and I encourage other organisations to do the same.

David Birtwistle is HR director for Jaguar Land Rover