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Upskilling the over-55s could help plug the impending skills shortage
Originally appeared in DiversityQ 30 December 2021.
We found that over-55s are undervalued in the workplace.
The notion of a ‘job for life’ has faded in the last decade. We are living longer than ever yet have an outdated approach to life that sees it in three limiting stages – education, career and retirement. A multi-stage life approach needs to be adopted as a 60-year career is simply unsustainable.
It’s an issue well explained in Lynda Gratton’s and Andrew Scott’s award-winning business book: ‘The 100 Year Life’. While people are becoming more conscious of their lengthening working lives, there’s increasing frustration about the rigidity of outdated models that leave people without options when it comes to their later life careers and places a burden on economies.
While businesses have been quick to capitalise on the estimated $15 trillion of spending power of people over 60, they have been much slower to react when it comes to what this may mean within their own workforces. If you look around, you can see many have introduced robust systems and processes for company transition and career development, but there’s a missing piece of the puzzle for many where ‘career transition’ sits, particularly for older workers.
A study 55/Redefined commissioned in partnership with ProAge, a UK charity for age diversity in the workplace, entitled ‘Shut out, forced out and overlooked’, examines the level of ageism experienced among the older workforce. We found that over-55s are undervalued in the workplace, with only 30% of employers ‘very motivated’ to recruit 55–75-year-olds; meanwhile, figures from the Department for Work and Pensions reveal more than 790,000 people aged between 50 and 64 years are actively seeking work, or are inactive but are willing or would like to work.
And while 90% of employees aged 55-65 believe they have transferable skills to move role and/or industry if the employer was prepared to offer technical training, this type of mobility is hampered with only 35% of employers prepared to offer technical training and hire over-55s into a new industry or role discipline.
Increased government support is needed to address the high level of unemployment in this demographic and to convince employers of the value of older, more experienced workers.
We know from our work at 55/Redefined that significant demand exists to reskill in new roles and industries, but this requires investment and cultural change from employers to avoid a future skills shortage crisis for UK businesses; we don’t think the extra 29% increase in funding for adult skills in the Autumn Budget goes far enough.
We are driving for a Government-backed solution to help employers recognise the economic gains of retraining and investing in this stage of mid-life. We would like there to be a mandatory retrain moment and adult key stage at 55. An online career audit will encourage all to plan their career, training and income needs over the course of the following 15 years of their life.
Resistance to hiring older candidates for roles that require technical training requires employers to make conscious decisions to hire at this age group on motivational, behavioural and cultural fit criterion. This is standard when hiring younger cohorts, such as college apprentices and graduates where careers are just starting, and thus technical skills and industry experience are not relevant.
Given the overwhelming majority of over-55s would take a pay cut to retrain in a different role or industry and are craving new challenges and opportunities, it seems sensible for employers to re-think their hiring processes and apprentice schemes.
For currently employed over-55s, almost two thirds (64%) are not getting leadership training, and a third have lost interest in their job due to lack of development opportunities.
As well as discrimination within roles, older workers face an even greater challenge in recruitment, particularly from younger HR leaders. Only 24% of HR leaders aged 25-30 were ‘very’ willing or motivated to recruit workers aged 55–75, a stark contrast to the 63% of older HR leaders aged 46-50.
Employers must invest in older workers to attract and retain the best talent in an ageing society. The ideal scenario – for both the individual and the organisation – is when career transition can be supported within the business. The cost savings on talent retention are well known. It saves money on recruitment fees and on-boarding when an employee is moving sideways. From an employee perspective, it’s hugely beneficial to stay with an employer who is happy to invest in reskilling and transitioning you.
Unfortunately, this ideal scenario is not common. This is often due to a lack of communication. The employee expects a negative reaction from a line manager, so immediately starts looking elsewhere for an entry-level role in their new field of interest, or they embark on self-financing training. The business then gets caught completely unaware and then has to navigate the onerous process of replacing a valued employee.
This issue can be alleviated by embedding a training culture. Leaders with well-developed skills are most likely to achieve required business outcomes and those employees who have themselves benefitted from coaching are more likely to demonstrate the behaviours required for success. Although it can take time to invest in, build and embed this coaching culture, the increase in trust and commercial benefits to the organisation can be dramatic and long-lasting.
At 55/Redefined, we offer Age Aware Accreditation. It includes a charter of positive actions and commitments that employers take to support over-55 workers. Part of the accreditation includes e-learning on age unconscious bias to improve education and reduce bias amongst hiring managers, HR and recruitment teams.
Furthermore, companies with a wage bill of £3m+ are currently required in the UK to pay an Apprenticeship Levy of 0.5% of their annual wage bill. There is no age limit on apprentices and many large companies fail to utilise their levy for schemes, treating it instead as a tax. It would seem that in addition to supporting skilled and senior over-55s to remain employed for longer, there is a role to play in introducing apprenticeship schemes for over-55s who want to retrain or re-enter the workforce after a prolonged period of absence.
Career transition is going to be a huge theme as we move into next year and beyond. The World Economic Forum has predicted that 50% of people will need reskilling by 2025 to address the changing economies and customer needs.
Switching a career should not mean that you have to start over – especially when you have invested years in a company. Employees need a key stage in midlife and a roadmap for transition with the necessary tools to make it as successful as possible.
It is not solely the company’s responsibility to develop employees’ careers, but employers can help by supporting employees to be better equipped to progress their own career – whether internally or externally.
Corporates will need to adapt to the multi-stage career and utilise initiatives such as a four-day working week, sabbaticals and retraining.
Unless we invest in technical training and reskilling of this age group – current and new employees – we face a future skills shortage crisis and burden on the economy. We urge employers to investigate if they can create schemes targeting this age group or hire cohorts of over-55s for in-demand roles that require technical or industry training.