July 20, 2015

How looking after older workers can safeguard your future

In the UK, almost 9.5 million people in employment are over the age of 50. This equates to over 30% of the UK workforce.

In the not-too-distant future, a major proportion of these employees will retire, taking their skills and experience with them.

The problem is that the demographic change over recent years means that the number of young people coming into the workplace will be less than the number that will be needed to replace those who have permanently left work.

Recent transformation of the nature of work

Although recently there has been more encouragement to get the UK back into manufacturing, the truth is that service industries are in abundance, employing more highly trained and highly skilled people.

Combine this with the shift towards workers, and in particular older workers, wanting greater flexibility and more autonomy, many of them are opting for more part time working and some deciding to become self-employed, there is inevitably going to be a potential void in the workplace.

Some industries are affected more than others

In most industry groups, more than one in ten workers are over the age of 60, with one in five being over 50. However, some industries have a far higher number of older workers.

There are more than 1.2 million workers over the age of 50 in the education and retail sectors, with over 1.5 million over 50’s in health and social care.  Other areas of concern are agriculture and real estate with over 40% of the workforce being over the age of 50.

On the other hand, there are some industries such as finance, public administration and defence, and ICT who seems to be unable or unwilling to retain older workers, with a drop of more than 60% in the number of workers who are in their late forties or older.  This would seem to suggest that these sectors may not be doing enough to support their older workers, thus losing the valuable skills and experience these people have.

What about replacing with younger workers?

Many of the jobs which are currently being filled by the 9.5 million over 50’s will no doubt be transferred to those who are currently in their 30’s and 40’s.  However, if only 40% of this 30 – 40 age group remain employed into their 50s and 60s, there could be over a million jobs which remain unfilled.

Although there are expected to be around 16.5 million school leavers in the next 20 years, these youngsters may not have the skills to take the place of the experienced workers.

What can you do to try to safeguard your future?

There are a number of measures which you could take which may go some way towards securing a continuing workforce.

Does your recruitment process unintentionally exclude relevant talent by requiring unnecessary qualifications which could discriminate against older or younger applicants?  For example, do you ask for your new recruit to be an undergraduate when there is no need for a degree level qualification to do the job?

Are your managers trained to deal with a diverse workforce?  Many employees leave a company because their manager doesn’t do their job properly.

Do you provide adequate training opportunities for your older workforce?  All employees, regardless of age, should be encouraged to participate in training in order to keep their skills up to date, enabling progression and career development.

Older workers may not put themselves forward for training as they may feel that they are taking something away from their younger counterparts, so may need more encouragement especially where there is an opportunity to retrain and learn new skills.

How do you support ill-health?

If a health problem is present, do you offer access to support such as occupational health advisors or counselling services if appropriate?

Do you consider applications for Flexible Working seriously enough?  Although employees all have the statutory right to request flexible working, you do not have to grant it.

However, workers who have ill-health or caring responsibilities for example, may need to work shorter or different hours (either on a temporary or permanent basis) in order for them to do everything they need to do whilst retaining their job.

This may be an area where a look at the bigger picture may prove useful, where you may be able to allow some flexibility without damaging the business requirements.

Need advice on this topic? Contact us. You can also download one of our useful resources to help you understand your responsibilities as an employer.

By Elaine Pritchard

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