ONS data exposes older workers driving talent shortages

Older people are falling out of the labour market at a high rate, often due to long-term ill health.

These same workers, according to experts, may be the key to surviving the current talent shortage.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures published yesterday showed that the UK is experiencing its tightest labour market since records began in 1971, with just 1.1 unemployed person for each job opening. 

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This means that employers are having to compete harder than ever for candidates.

Before the pandemic, the figure was around 1.7, five unemployed people per three vacancies, and had already hit a record low in October at 1.45.

This squeeze, according to analysis by the Institute for Employment Studies, has been partially driven by 600,000 workers leaving the job market since the pandemic began.

A lack of employer support for long-term health issues could be making things worse, however, as between October and December 2021, a third (200,000) of the workers left the economy due to poor health. 

Jonathan Boys, labour market economist for the CIPD, said employers need to look a ways to make it easier for the affected groups to come back to work.

Job flexibility is a critical part of the solutions, however he added: “Employers must work harder to design jobs that suit everyone’s preferences. 

“This means increasing focus on job quality and making reasonable adjustments to help those with long-term health conditions to stay in work.”

Most (80%) of what the ONS calls newly economically inactive population (people who aren't in work or seeking work) is older than 50.

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO of skills provider City & Guilds Group, said that the loss of this talent is concerning.

She told HR magazine: “These workers have a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience that could be used to fill the [record 1.3 million] job vacancies in the UK. 

“At present, we’re at risk of throwing this entire generation on the scrapheap and losing their knowledge and expertise for good if we don’t do something to entice them back into work.”

Sarah Loates, of Loates HR Consultancy, added that with so many employers desperate for staff, retention should also be a critical objective for employers. 

She said: “Employers are achieving this by raising wages, providing one-off rewards and offering existing staff increased job flexibility and additional training. 

“More enlightened employers are shifting their focus to employee wellbeing, even conducting ‘stay interviews’, the antithesis of exit interviews.”

Loates warned, however, that if too many employers put resources into retention, higher salaries could lead to an inflation spiral.

“My advice for employers is to access untapped areas of the labour market.”


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