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South West

In Praise of the Older Worker

16 May 2019


By Helen Lacey, Managing Director Red Berry Recruitment and an Ambassador for the Institute of Directors South West.

It's no surprise that skills shortages is second on the list of concerns for IoD members, with 42 percent of those recently questioned saying it was causing them a major headache. The downside to good job figures is that it makes it harder for organisations to find the talent they need. But are we looking in the right places and is ageism in recruitment, conscious or not, still a factor? Currently only 64% of people aged 55-64 in the UK are in employment. If we were to increase this by just 20% - matching Sweden’s record on employing older people - it would add about £80bn to the GDP.

The 2018 report by  the Centre for Ageing Better* states that older workers are critical to the future of the UK economy.  As well as raising tax revenues, keeping or getting them back in work reduces welfare costs and supports financial independence in retirement.   They say  - and I can’t disagree – that successive Governments have focused employment policies on getting the younger generation into or back into work, leaving those older workers who fall out of the workplace for various reasons, such as caring responsibilities or a change in health circumstances, struggling to get back in.  Older workers in the UK are also are less likely to be offered opportunities for development – across the whole of the OECD only Turkey and Slovenia have lower levels of on-the-job training for older workers than the UK.
Interestingly, small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are taking advantage of this workforce faster than other larger businesses and organisations. They probably recognise the need to be more flexible in both their thinking and the way they operate the business to get the absolute most out of it.  They are far more fleet of foot in creating an age friendly working culture than larger businesses with big HR departments and tanker-like policies that take an age to turn around. 
I employ two people over the age of 60 : they are never late, never call in sick, always willing to go the extra mile. Older people tend to have a good work ethic; they are used to routine and structure, which is something many younger people struggle with. Emotional intelligence is another factor: older people by and large deal well with constructive feedback on their performance and realise it helps with development. Many younger employees have yet to develop that maturity and can often take feedback as criticism. From a practical point of view, older employees are more settled and less likely to be looking for a ‘career move’ - so you get great work and life experience combined with stability. And that’s good for the younger workforce too – they can learn so much from those who have already had their career and are willing to pass on some of their life lessons. Many are happy fulfilling a role less demanding than their actual ability because they don't want too much stress or pressure – so as an employer you may be able to get great experience for a very competitive salary compared to someone trying to climb the career ladder.
Older people are also in a good place to apply all the skills and knowledge they have acquired over the years to new ventures – we are seeing a definite rise in the tend of the older entrepreneur with some embarking on not just their second but their third or fourth career. In fact, the IoD has made proposals to the Government to introduce tax incentives to encourage people in later life to pursue their business ideas and invest in training. This may not be everyone’s first choice but keeping older people connected to the business world through consulting, mentoring, part time employment or even full time employment retains their skills for longer – and that’s a win win for all of us.

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