Making the most of an ageing workforce - Business Works
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Making the most of an ageing workforce

Kevin Young, GM, Skillsoft EMEA It is rare for a Government initiative to be of direct relevance to almost every business in the UK. However, with recent changes to the retirement age and pension payouts, businesses need to start thinking about how they will manage an ageing workforce. By 2028, employees will be working until they reach 67. This gradual shift in employee demographics over the next decade must therefore be a catalyst for businesses to rethink their training solutions and budget allocation for employees who continue to work well into their 60s.

However, our own research, conducted by Opinion Matters, discovered the 92% of UK CEOs do not currently invest in training and development for those employees over the age of 60. With the realisation that these workers will be on the payroll for longer, businesses can no longer get away with not training this generation and risk a wider skills gap emerging. Instead of ignoring these issues, businesses need to consider how to keep both older staff motivated and look at how their business can benefit from this valuable resource.

Failing a generation

Many businesses have an outdated view of the over 60s workforce, thinking they will be elderly and sick, or take time off to be with their grandchildren. However, a study by B&Q found that absenteeism was 39% lower among their older employees. Also, this generation do not have young children of their own and are less likely to need to take unplanned parental leave to look after small children. This therefore supports the notion that older workers are less distracted, more committed and more likely to turn up for work each day – all the attributes that business leaders, in all sectors, really need. However, as our research proved, businesses are not investing in the over 60s and are therefore failing to provide them with opportunities to develop and expand their knowledge.

This stereotypical view of older workers is holding individuals and ultimately, businesses back. The over 60s have so much to offer the workplace and can be vital mentors to younger workers. Younger employees have the enthusiasm and desire to learn, but they do not have the experience to guide themselves through the minefield which is the workplace. Instead of limiting their abilities, businesses should be looking to capitalise on what the over 60s have to offer and share their knowledge with those who do not have the same levels of experience through setting up mentoring programmes, older staff can guide, pass on knowledge and help younger workers in an easy and effective way to both include and utilise the over 60s capabilities. Their experience will prove vital to the junior team members and ultimately, business leaders who change their stereotypical attitudes towards mature employees and invest more time in their development will really start to see the business benefits.

Investing in older workers

As well as using the older workers to educate those around them, it is also important to develop their skills. The younger generation tends to be much more au fait with all things digital and older workers may need training to stay up-to-date in this and other emerging technologies. In fact, the government has recently suggested that businesses should send their employees over 60 back to university to retrain in key areas, which is an interesting proposition, but is it the most realistic way of up-skilling older workers?

As I have mentioned, older workers already possess many of the skills businesses are looking for and although going back to university is a plausible suggestion from the government, it does raise numerous questions around the financial costings for the over 60s. With pension funds dwindling, is it going to be possible for older workers to pay back a student loan and pay into their pensions? By taking action, and retraining older workers, businesses would lift this financial burden and show dedication and support. For employees to be at their most productive, it is vital for them to feel engaged and needed; sending the over 60s back to university could have the potential to alienate an entire resource while training them in house, would boost productivity and engagement.

Businesses need to take the lead and encourage older workers to enhance their skill set by offering both a job and training in one package, as they do for the younger generation, businesses will be well placed for long-term prosperity. To ensure that all employees feel engaged, businesses can start by:

  • Making sure managers and supervisors do not introduce age ‘cut offs’ simply because of their assumptions about difference age groups;
  • Ensuring training and development is seen as an integral part of the culture of the business, with employees of all ages being actively involved in identifying their own development needs;
  • Monitoring the take-up of training to ensure that all employees are aware of the opportunities and are encouraged to take them up.

It is encouraging to see that the government is starting to initiate programmes that are aimed at enhancing the over 60s working life and it is time for businesses to take notes and not ignore this valuable part of its workforce. If forgotten and not given the appropriate key training, it will be businesses that miss out on this untapped resource that is the experienced and loyal worker.

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