Scotland’s ageing workforce: Time to act!

In December, I am going to see Paul McCartney who is 76. He is still working on and (judging from the exorbitant ticket price I paid to see him at the Hydro), very much earning and productive! And he thought he would easing it back when he was 64!

CIPD Head of Scotland and NI, Lee Panglea, has been working with leading academics, Age Scotland, Business in the Community Scotland and Scottish Government to look at how we can be prepared for Scotland’s future ageing workforce. The planning culminated in a fantastic conference held at the University of Edinburgh Business School on the 26th September with over 100 delegates in attendance, many of them HR professionals.

Scotland will see an 80% growth in the over 75 population and a 15% decline in the peak working age population by 2041. This will take place against a backdrop of Brexit and lower migration which has helped Scotland to stabilise its population which had been declining.

Our opening keynote speaker Andy Briggs, CEO of Aviva, explained that we could no longer ignore the older workforce and we could no longer put up with age discrimination. As Chair of Business in the Community’s age leadership team and leading executive in the life and insurance sector he was also advising government. He dispelled many of the myths about older workers and revealed that their oldest apprentice is 68.

Shirley Campbell, HRD of Scottish Water, then explained how she is working to make SW an age inclusive employer. With a commitment to agile working and to better options for career and skills for the whole workforce. Shirley as always made us think by insisting that she is uncomfortable with the term ‘flexibility’, preferring the term agile as a more long term embedded approach which works for both individuals and the business.

Professor Wendy Loretto and her colleague Dr Laura Airey from University of Edinburgh Business School, shared some fascinating research conducted for the Scottish Government on how older workers were perceived. Often the discussion is driven by stereotypes, Wendy argued. The fear of discrimination legislation stopped employers having whole workforce conversations about later life working options. Often the discussion was dominated by pensions or retirement as opposed to a wider well-being and learning focus.

The importance of having appropriate tools to develop age inclusive employment as part of HR practice, was the basis of a talk by Sue Adlam-Hill and Susan Gordon of Age Scotland. They shared the Age Inclusive Matrix tool (AIM). They use the tool to audit an organisation’s progress on the issue and then use the GROW coaching model to help map out actions. A good opportunity for me as chair to point out that Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) despite looking cool in a leather trench coat was now at 57 very much an older worker!

Natalie Brindeau HRD of Sodexo UK and Ireland was also using AIM to promote policy in her organisation. She explained that her workforce in Scotland was ageing more rapidly than in any other area of the world. Retaining older workers was key given the licencing and training costs to work offshore. But Natalie explained they see workforce well-being as essential to maintaining capability. Helping people have better extended working life options was key.

After a spirited panel discussion with some great takeaways we were joined by Scotland’s Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills Jamie Hepburn MSP. Jamie explained the importance of retaining older workers and the vital contribution they would make to Scotland’s future. He also linked the ageing workforce agenda to the wider need for flexibility and or agility. Finally one delegate a happily working older man, raised the issue of whether we should banish the R word retirement. An interesting discussion. Let us hear your suggestions.

It’s easy to think that 2041 is a long time away. In fact its only five world cups away. (Football or Rugby). By 2022 I will be just short of 60 (hopefully) watching Scotland in the sweltering heat of Qatar. The impact will be starting to build. When I’m 64 watching Scotland in Canada, Mexico and the US it will be even more acute. As our conference showed, it’s time to act!

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