Is your business making the most of the over 50s talent pool?

Talent scarcity remains a major challenge for businesses across all sectors, as 69% of employers cannot find the skills they need. And with an ever-changing working landscape, the skills and qualities needed within a workforce continue to change as well. Many organisations are focusing on these new and emerging skills when hiring new employees, and are naturally looking at younger generations to fill these gaps.

Hundreds of UK employers are reported to be shifting their recruitment efforts to school leavers, while others have unveiled plans to host apprenticeships and an increased number of graduate opportunities. This isn’t necessarily surprising. The pandemic has dramatically accelerated our dependency on and adoption of technology, and the younger demographics have been born into this digitised world where technology is continuously advancing. So it’s understandable that business leaders are looking to future-proof their workforce by recruiting from a younger talent pool.

Already, 48% of the workforce is made up of millennials, and it’s predicted that people under the age of 35 will make up 75% of the workforce by 2030. Soon, millennials and Gen Z will dominate the working world, and employers are looking to get themselves ready.

But in doing so, are business leaders neglecting their existing workforce, and allowing highly skilled and experienced individuals to leave their organisation inefficiently?

The challenges facing older employees

As employees get older, retirement often becomes a logical next step in both the mind of the employee and their employer; with over 50s being the most likely demographic to quit the workforce during the pandemic. And in some instances, it will make business sense for both parties, as a new perspective may be needed to take the business in a different direction. But what happens when seemingly logical expectations turn into negative presumptions?

A recent TUC report found that older workers are the least likely to get ‘off the job training’ from their employers, with many feeling driven out as their needs to be upskilled are not being met. This mass exodus of dissatisfied and ill-treated professionals from the workforce has meant that there are now an estimated 750,000 – 1 million over 50s who are out of work, despite wanting to continue their careers.

Recent PwC research found that 77% of adults would learn new skills or completely retrain in order to future-proof their careers, irrespective of their age. Which goes to show that overlooking older employees for opportunities to learn is both insulting to the individuals in question, and harmful to the wider economy; as over 50s who haven’t had access to training opportunities will be twice as likely as the youngest workers to face long-term unemployment – leaving many highly experienced and valuable professionals unable to contribute towards economic resurgence.

What can organisations do to manage their workforce more effectively?

Enable succession planning: Older workers will possess a wealth of experience that cannot be allowed to leave the organisation without proper succession planning. And yet, just 35% of businesses have a formalised plan for succession. This means that as one generation of the workforce leaves the business, their knowledge and expertise leaves with them. As a result, the individuals stepping into their shoes are often unprepared to do so, having missed a key step in knowledge acquisition.

By enabling succession planning conversations, whereby senior employees spend time talking and working with their successors, business leaders can ensure that their older employees continue to feel valued as their time with the company comes to an end, while the next generation are better equipped to lead the organisation into the future.

Career conversations: Organisations cannot afford to lose valuable talent, and yet many continue to struggle with engaging and retaining workers at all levels. One in five employees have never had a career conversation with their line manager, while two in five have just one a year. When you combine this with the fact that managers are often unsure how to have these conversations with older colleagues, it becomes apparent as to why so many over 50s are leaving the workforce feeling misunderstood.

To combat this, businesses should provide line managers with ongoing training around conducting effective career conversations, as well as offering clear communication to older employees as to why these conversations are important. Clarify that these conversations aren’t being used as a segue into discussions about retirement, and instead are essential to enabling the business to support their ongoing development. Employees will then be able to see the business’ intention to retain and develop their skills, and will be more likely to engage with career development initiatives.

Diverse and inclusive decision making: Gartner Analysis predicts that 75% of organisations with diverse and inclusive decision making teams will exceed their financial targets. Having greater diversity within the teams making key decisions reduces discrimination and bias, and enables more diverse talent to be better utilised within an organisation – including individuals who may have previously been overlooked for development opportunities based on their age.

And so regardless of whether older employees are provided with the training and upskilling they require to continue performing their roles, or are transitioned into part-time or consultancy positions; creating a more inclusive workplace culture enables greater mobility, meaning older employees aren’t ignored when key strategic decisions are being made, and can continue making an impact with their work.

Ongoing coaching support: One of the most effective methods of training and development support is coaching. Two thirds of workers who have had access to coaching support cite improvements in their overall job performance, with 74% of coachees planning to stay with their organisation as a result of the support they’ve received. And yet, three in ten employees aren’t being offered coaching support of any kind by their employer.

When granted access to such support, older employees are able to use their coaching sessions to identify what it is they want from the next phase of their careers, and use these insights to inform their next steps – whether that’s to upskill, change career path or enter retirement. Organisations then find themselves in a position whereby individuals who are engaged and motivated to continue contributing towards business success remain with the business, while those who are looking for a new challenge can be successfully transitioned out of the company.