HR & Management

Get rid of older workers stigma to solve skills gap problem

4 min read

30 May 2017

It’s a no brainer that eight big firms, including Aviva, Barclays and Atos, are going to promote the employment of older workers by publishing data about the age of respective workforces – it makes perfect sense.

This announcement comes after a call from Andy Briggs, CEO of Aviva UK and business champion for older workers. Briggs set a target for firms, back in February, to increase older worker numbers by 12 per cent by 2022. This is great, don’t get me wrong, but rather than using age as a conscious factor in our future hiring decisions, we should already be looking at the pool of workers that could bring something extra to our businesses.

It’s a win-win situation. The business champion for older workers warned that by 2022 there will be 14.5m more jobs to fill, but only seven million younger workers entering the workplace to fill them. Older workers are surely the answer. They bring huge amounts of experience and knowledge to the workplace, as well as loyalty that isn’t always the preserve of the young.

I’m a lifelong advocate of apprenticeships, they’re an essential aspect closing the skills gap, whilst ensuring the successful growth of a company. But with all the experience and quality that an older worker can contribute, surely the same can be said of them?

Apprentices start their position at a business with a clean slate, ready to be moulded and eager to learn on the job. You also have employees that have been in the industry for a few years and those with even more experience than that, in the form of the older worker.

At Pimlico Plumbers, we have that perfect mix. Young enthusiastic apprentices who are learning both traditional and new ways of working and older, equally enthusiastic workers who are happy to share their experience and have their ears bent by younger colleagues.

And of course, when I train apprentices I don’t train them to have a thirty-year shelf life – they have a life-long career ahead of them and will become experienced older workers who can support the next generation of trainees.

Despite what some people may think, older employees aren’t past their sell-by-date, but actually bring a lot of credibility to a business and are respected by both colleagues and customers.

According to government data, the average age of the UK population is currently 40, which is ten years more than it was 1974. A third of the country’s working age population will be 50 and over. By 2030, half of all British adults will be over 50 years old, so the fact of the matter is we’re undoubtedly an ageing population. We have to accept that if we are going to thrive, we cannot function without the over 50s.

UK charity Business in the Community is going to publish data released from the companies willing to take part on its website. Briggs pointed out that being open about progress these companies are making will demonstrate the benefits of having “a diverse team of employees that represents all sections of society”.

It’s business leaders, like myself, who need to make sure that ageism doesn’t play a part in our recruitment decisions in the worst possible way, by taking a stand like these companies and hiring more mature workers.

What better way is there to address the skills gap, allow people to stay in work as long as they see fit, whilst getting rid of this ridiculous stigma in the process?