To harness the skills and experience older workers possess, employers need to improve the way they recruit, train and retain older workers in the first place.

The situation

Older workers represent a rising proportion of the UK workforce, with over-50s now making up 31% of the total, up from 21% in the early 1990s. However, the employment rates of older workers still decline rapidly after they enter their fifties for a range of reasons including early retirement, ill health or a move to self-employment.

Older workers looking to enter or re-enter the workforce find it harder generally than other age-groups to find new employment often as a result of discrimination or bias on the part of employers and recruiters.

A lack of flexible working can also make it harder for older workers to remain in employment particularly if they have caring responsibilities or have a disability or long-term health condition.

Unless more employers improve how they recruit, train and retain older workers they are likely to face skill and labour shortages, particularly after the UK leaves the EU and it is harder to recruit EU nationals.

CIPD viewpoint

The CIPD is committed to the removal of age discrimination in organisations. CIPD research shows that age-diverse teams can benefit both individuals and their organisations. Genuine inclusion boosts workforce diversity, helps address skill and labour shortages and benefits an organisation’s reputation and brand.

Given our aging population, as well as the anticipated post-Brexit restrictions on access to EU migrant workers, the proportion of older workers in the workforce may be expected to increase, especially if retirement age may potentially rise in future. Therefore, it is crucial that employers establish the people management policies and practices needed to recruit, train and retain an age diverse workforce, and harness the skills and experience they have effectively. According to CIPD research, only a fifth of employers currently have a strategy agreed at board level to manage a more age diverse workforce. This is a statistic that needs to improve.

Actions for Government

  • Launch an ‘Age Confident’ campaign and a wider, national rollout of a ‘mid-life career’ review for people aged 50 and over, to be facilitated by employers and by the government using online support and through the National Careers Service.

  • Support the activities and recommendations of the Flexible Working Task Force aimed at increasing the predominance of sustainable flexible working. This is likely to be beneficial to the recruitment and retention of older workers.

  • Allocate 5% of the £23bn Productivity Fund towards lifelong learning and pilot a revised version of Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs) but with much greater scope for co-investment between employer and employee.

Recommendations for employers

  • Use strategic workforce planning to understand the diversity and skills profile of the workforce and the extent it is equipped to meet the organisation’s future skills and labour requirements. Use this data to inform recruitment and people management and development practices.

  • Improve recruitment practices to eliminate bias, for example:
    • Test the wording of your job adverts to see how it affects who applies.
    • Group and anonymise CVs when reviewing them.
    • Pre-commit to a set of interview questions that are related to performance on the job.
    • Focus interviews on collecting information, not making the decision.

  • Invest in training, development, and improving performance management to ensure older workers do not miss out on opportunities.

  • Support employee health and well-being, for example, by providing access to an occupational health service. Poor health is one of the biggest reasons for economic inactivity for those in their 50s.

  • Offer flexible working – changes in working arrangement can support those with ill-health or caring responsibilities. Employees have the right to request flexible work after 26 weeks.

  • Offer phased retirement options – managers should have open and honest conversations with older workers without making assumptions about their retirement intentions.

CIPD resources and references

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