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Older workers help avoid skills crisis, report finds

Older workers could help solve an imminent skills shortage if organisations learn to embrace their ageing workforces, research has shown.

The UK faces a talent crisis. During the next decade there will be 13.5 million job vacancies, but only 7 million school and college graduates will enter the workforce – leaving a skills shortage that immigration alone cannot plug.

A solution to this talent time bomb could already lie within organisations: better managing Britain's greying workforce.

That is the recommendation of The Ageing Workforce - What's Your Strategy?, a new report by OD consultancy Talentsmoothie in association with HR magazine. It found that, although 60% of baby boomers plan to extend their careers beyond the conventional retirement age, 80% of employers were not planning HR policy changes in response to this demographic challenge.

"This has to change given the predicted future skills shortages and the proven business benefits older workers offer," said Justine James, the report's author and Talentsmoothie founding director.

"We shouldn't leave discussions about retirement or extended career phases to six months before someone is due to do leave. It should be a HR priority to put this to senior management."

Steve Harvey, the HR director of global engineering and construction company Subsea 7, agrees. The oil and gas industry is on the brink of talent shortage. Recent estimates show nearly half of the workforce is approaching retirement age and North Sea companies will need to recruit and train 125,000 workers in the next 10 years.

"I don't think it's an issue which is coming up enough at companies," Harvey told HR magazine. "HR should be saying we know there's a skills shortage that can't be met by the number of young people coming into the workforce, so we must address it and let the rest of the organisation realise this.

"We are now starting to see employers inviting older workers back into the workforce, who we know will be loyal, motivated and engaged with the company."

The report found that, with the right leadership, mature employees enjoy some of the most rewarding times of their careers instead of the apathy and disengagement often experienced in the sudden transition from full-time employment to retirement.

It said employers also benefit because an appreciated and engaged employee is much more likely to share knowledge with others.

Derek Massie is the managing director of Dynamic People Strategies and former SVP HR at deepwater drilling company Seadrill. He said even though older workers can help plug gaps, companies must not forget about the younger generation.

"I think HR can help older workers stage their retirement better by offering more flexible working patterns so they can continue working but also allow the younger generation to see those opportunities for progression," Massie said.

The report has a diagnostic tool to help companies assess what action they can take to reduce the risk of a talent shortage. It also features case studies from companies including BMW, GSK and Barclays Wealth.

Click here to find out more about the report.