As a culture we celebrate the ideal of youth. We invent names by which to define it – we talk about ‘millennials’ or ‘Gen x/y/z’ – and as employers we court it, using recruitment initiatives designed to vacuum up new talent.
And, perhaps most visibly, we celebrate it in popular culture and politics.
Of course I am not suggesting that young people aren’t vital to businesses, society or the wider economy. Far from it. We need new talent, new ideas and fresh thinking if we are to continue to innovate.
But do these qualities reside solely with younger people? Does our pursuit of youth run the risk of us excluding older, more experienced people?
This is not an abstract debate. The UK’s workforce is one of the most highly skilled on the planet but the level of employment among over-50s in this country is one of the lowest. In 10 years’ time, there will be 700,000 fewer people aged 16-49, but the number of people aged between 50 and the current state pension age will have swelled by an incredible 3.7 million.
This demographic bulge will force us as a society to look again at more experienced candidates for roles. But why should we wait to be forced to tap into these ready-made pools of talent? I believe businesses need to do more to re-engage older generations. As employers we have a responsibility – as well as a clear commercial opportunity – to encourage older people to look again at new careers and make it easier for them to switch roles.
Some businesses are already tapping into this pool of talent and tailoring initiatives designed to help people transition more to other opportunities easier. Businesses like Dell and Sodexo have embraced ‘reverse mentoring’ strategies, which pair older workers with younger counterparts to ‘upskill’ them in areas such as technology and encourage closer collaboration between generations. Others are encouraging older people to take on internships to sample different roles in new sectors.
Despite this good work, there is much more to be done if we are to connect different generations with new opportunities. In fact, LinkedIn research has shown that one in three parents has no idea what their child does at work – a worrying disconnect which prevents both parents and children from sharing their knowledge – even though they both confess to wanting more advice.
So, although we may recognise the value of their knowledge, we are not seizing the opportunity to learn from one another, which is why LinkedIn last year launched Bring In Your Parents Day – a day designed to break down career ‘barriers’ between parents and their children.
This initiative saw thousands of businesses welcome their employees’ parents into the workplace. Parents were given the opportunity to learn first hand about their child’s job, professionals were able to say “thank you” for the guidance and support they had been given, and both generations were shown the value they can generate by learning from each other.
We all have a vital role to play in closing the generational gap.
The answer to solving the problem of the UK’s ageing workforce is not as simple as shifting recruitment policy in favour of older candidates, but instead requires a more collaborative attitude, increased employee engagement and skill sharing.
Isn’t it time “experience isn’t wasted on the old” becomes a familiar refrain?