Our ageing working population is a growing problem for UK employers. Many businesses will lose invaluable experience and knowledge that they’ll struggle to replace. The effects will really be felt in future decades but we should address the issue now.
What’s the problem?
The UK has a high proportion of workers over 50 years of age (more than 30% of the working population). This is compounded by the fact that we also have too few younger skilled people entering the workplace. When older employees retire they’ll take their knowledge and experience with them – and we just don’t have sufficient replacements.
The knock-on effect for businesses could be significant skills shortages, reduced efficiency and productivity and, as a consequence, poorer business performance.
Who’ll be worst affected?
Almost all organisations are currently underprepared. The CIPD says just 14% have a strategy in place to manage an ageing workforce. Sectors that could be hit particularly hard (because they have above average numbers of older workers) include retail, education and real estate.
What can HR do to address this?
1. Invest in manager development
Equipping line managers with key skills and capabilities will enable them to manage their teams better. They must be confident managing people of all ages and backgrounds and the associated challenges this brings. They have a crucial role in fostering the development of younger employees and retaining the experience of older workers for longer.
2. Prioritise engagement, health and wellbeing
You need to better understand issues and drivers for your staff – how do they currently feel and what areas need addressing to improve engagement and wellbeing? A happier, healthy and more engaged workforce naturally reduces attrition rates and makes it less likely you’ll lose experienced workers early.
3. Provide training and career development
Offering continuous learning and career development is hugely important for all workers. Older employees often aren’t given the same opportunities but should be, in order to ensure they keep skills up-to-date and to engage and retain them.
Coaching or mentoring schemes encourage older, more experienced staff to share their skills and knowledge with the next generation. They offer a wealth of experience and know-how, and can play an integral role in the development of younger talent.
4. Promote flexible working
The blurred lines of our work and home lives, and increased connectivity, means we can do our jobs from anywhere in the world. Employees young and old now demand greater flexibility as to where and when they work. Many have personal responsibilities such as childcare or looking after unwell partners or elderly relatives. So as long as the wider business or individual performance doesn’t suffer, support flexible working.
5. Manage your existing talent
You need a holistic view of your talent to highlight demographic information including age and skills. The right technology will help you spot issues in regions or job functions where key workers might be close to retirement, and give you time to address them. This will help you to develop an internal pipeline of talent and create formal succession plans for specialist roles.
6. Cast a wider net to find new talent
Be prepared to look further afield (or closer to home) to find new recruits. You could source and train inexperienced talent through offering work placements or initiating relationships with local educational institutions.
Alternatively you could look at more experienced and highly-skilled talent in the form of ex-armed forces personnel looking to make the transition to the private sector. Or at working mothers and fathers returning to employment after parental leave.
Simon Blake is a director at HR consultancy ETS