The need for employers to hold onto the skills and experience of their ageing staff is more important than ever; both in order to stay competitive and avoid the huge threatened shortage of workers in the next decade.
With the number of young people leaving education over the next 10 years only able to fill half of the vacancies opening up in the workforce, it is essential for businesses to prepare for the skills gap by actively facilitating and encouraging more employees to extend their working lives.
It’s hard to comprehend why organisations would not want to do this anyway, given the wealth of skills and experience people build up over an entire career, as well as their inherent ability to mentor the next generation of employees. In short, if managed wisely older workers are hugely valuable and often underused assets within business.
Yet research by Business in the Community (BITC) shows that more than one million British people have been ‘forced out’ of the workforce by redundancy or ill health while still in their 50s. This is a disturbing trend that must be reversed if we are to make any progress in closing the gap.
It’s clear that businesses need to find better ways to support those employees who want to maintain fuller, longer working lives. Current research suggests a third of economically inactive over-50s would happily return to work with the right support.
It can’t be ignored that older workers may need greater flexibility for health or caring demands, or might require additional training to keep up-to-date with changing job roles. However, with the right flexibility, training and support there is no reason over-50s cannot carry on working.
Changes to pension arrangements mean that people will need to work past the traditional retirement age of 65 to 70. As a result, existing staff in their 50s could still be looking at up to 20 more years of working. Employers need to capitalise on this and keep adding to their skills and sustaining their motivation. However, according to the CIPD just 31% of employers have an HR strategy in place for managing their older workforce – something that clearly needs to be revisited by professionals from across the industry.
In Wales steps are already being taken to tackle the issues outlined. The Welsh government has launched its Age of Investment campaign to encourage local businesses to retain and invest in their experienced older workers in order to stay competitive, while also heading off looming staff shortages.
As well as keeping older workers for longer, employers should be investing in training opportunities to develop and widen their skillset. As people work for longer upskilling all ages will become a necessity to help achieve higher profit margins, promote a positive internal structure, and maximise employee potential.
With the skills gap likely to reach a critical point in 2022 organisations need to take stock and focus on the investment they need to make in workers of all ages. They’ll always need a pipeline of new blood, but more important than ever is the nurturing and retention of experienced players.
Scott Waddington is employment and skills commissioner for Wales