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Lisa Winnard: Mind the age gap at your firm

Lisa-Winnard-MM-grey-250x255.jpgAs our younger generations return to school, college and university, September is a time of the year when some of us older ones also consider going back to college; maybe to study a new course or add new skills to our toolkit; or go even further and completely retrain.

With the UK heading for skills shortages by 2020, our nation’s ageing demographic compounds the challenge we face. There are currently 11 million people aged over 65 in the UK and this is expected to grow to 19 million by 2050. This will greatly impact the economy and workplace, with businesses facing a recruitment black hole of 7.5 million  people and more jobs than younger people to fill them. The impact of Brexit could exacerbate this problem further.

To address the UK’s widening skills gap; tackle age bias in work and enable people to stay in work longer, the Government has set up a Business in the Community Age at Work Leadership Team. The aim is to increase the age 50 to 69 work population by 12 per cent by 2022.

I recently met the founders of Renegade Generation, a business seeking to help mature professionals successfully navigate career transition in a modern world. They are utilising a digital platform and offline workshops to inspire, empower and enable mature prof-essionals to successfully transition from traditional employment into new career choices.

Fiona Green and Caroline Bosher shared some of the challenges that the over-50s face in looking for employment, such as not fulfilling their potential and struggling to manage changing circumstances. This includes caring for elderly parents and personal health issues.

From an employer perspective the challenges include losing experienced staff and a lack of diversity impacting on competitive advantage, market share and revenue. We also discussed the personal challenges of the over-50s in needing to work longer to top-up pensions and, of course, the desire to want to be part of the workforce. It was shocking to read one Business in the Community study that found 60 per cent of older people felt that age discrimination existed and was affecting their daily lives.

In the UK we have been used to a culture of early retirement and one that predominantly focuses on addressing the needs of the younger workforce. But employers are now increasingly looking at how they are going to address the emerging challenge of skills shortages, by designing engagement and retention strategies.

This may include employers looking at work-life balance policies and more agile ways of working, with better integrated health and social care services.

In its Missing Million report, Business in the Community found that one million people aged 50 to 64 want to return to work, but many have been forced out at some point through redundancy, health issues or caring responsibilities. It is clear these people, with some training and development, could become the future critical members of our teams who provide the diversity and experience we need. In fact, many of the wants and needs of the over-50s match our millennial colleagues who too look for flexible, agile roles within our organisations.

Lisa Winnard is HR & Business Services Director at Sesame Bankhall Group

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