Friday 17 July 2020 4:58 am

Experience you can count on: Older workers are an untapped pool of business talent

Natasha Oppenheim is chief executive of No Desire To Retire

Businesses of all sizes across the UK are grappling with how to emerge from the Covid lockdown, re-engage with their customers and suppliers, and — for many in more adversely impacted sectors — sadly how to make parts of their workforce redundant. 

Job cuts have obviously been a major concern, as evidenced by the chancellor’s various efforts. There has been much attention in particular on the new Kickstart Scheme, which will enable employers to hire young workers (aged 16–24), funded by the government. 

The focus on averting a youth unemployment crisis is admirable, as is the aim to ensure that the pandemic does not irrevocably damage the lifetime career prospects of the Covid generation who are just starting out. However, focusing on young people alone is a missed opportunity. 

Read more: The future of the Covid generation rests on putting skills first

In fact, for businesses looking to hire staff with the ready-made skills to address the looming challenges, there is an untapped talent pool that is often ignored.

Older workers — that is, those over 50 — are experienced by definition. And they have a lot to offer to UK businesses navigating the uncertain times ahead. They have been there and done that, faced crises before and worked through different solutions, and therefore offer a safe pair of hands to companies grappling with the Covid disruption. 

Misguided concerns abound about the skills gap and lack of up-to-date training when it comes to hiring older workers. However, the evidence suggests that experienced workers outperform all other groups on measures of soft skills, including negotiation, problem-solving, communication, teamwork and customer service — the very areas that will be most crucial to the economic recovery.

Meanwhile, with learning and development budgets under pressure, older workers offer an invaluable source of mentoring to younger colleagues, as well as on-the-job knowledge transfer and training.

Furthermore, a diverse, inclusive multigenerational workforce has been shown to help foster creativity, innovation and productivity — much needed to re-emerge stronger and more resilient from this period.

Some large corporates do have dedicated schemes to hire and retrain older workers, and that is to be commended. But it is in the SME sector — comprising 99.9 per cent of all businesses in the UK, and accounting for around 58 per cent of total UK job vacancies — that a change in recruitment priorities could have the greatest impact.

If previous financial crises are anything to go by, it is likely we will see a surge in the number of new businesses in the coming months. Many of these — and, indeed SMEs more generally — will experience high levels of staff turnover, especially in the early days when they are establishing themselves. Finding employees who are the right “fit” and able to deliver from the outset, then retaining them through the rollercoaster startup journey, can be difficult. The resultant costs incurred in having to rehire and train up new staff to reach full productivity can be a significant hit to cashflow for fledgling businesses.

Recruiting mature talent can help de-risk the process of building a team in those crucial early stages on a tight budget. Research shows that older workers tend to be more committed and loyal to their employers, providing continuity and stability for an organisation while also offering a lifetime’s worth of expertise to support both the leadership and the wider team. Additionally, they are often seeking work that fits in around other life commitments, working flexible hours that enable the organisation to avoid the expense of employing someone full-time. 

As each industry adapts to their new normal, increasing the number of older workers not only makes cultural sense but can deliver essential economic benefits. Our mature workforce collectively represents millions of years’ worth of accrued experience and expertise. It is time to realise the value of this asset.

Read more: Help young Londoners take their first step on the career ladder

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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