On 6 February, Andy Briggs, CEO of Aviva Life and the UK Government’s business champion for older workers called for a million more older people to be in work by 2022. To address the widening skills gap, tackle age bias in work and enable people to stay in work longer, Mr Briggs is urging every UK employer to increase the number of workers aged 50-69 in the UK over the next five years.

Welcoming this announcement, Dr Jill Miller, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser at the CIPD, comments:

‘The attention that the Government is giving older workers is crucial, especially as the workforce ages and the state pension age increases. However, different sectors face different challenges, which will need to be taken into account. Individuals will also have different motivations for choosing to remain in or leave the labour market. As such, employer action needs to be underpinned by a deep level of understanding around strategic workforce planning. Employers need to appreciate why people choose to stay or leave work after 50 in order to be able to motivate and engage them and make the most of their skills and experience. This is about creating fulfilling working lives not just longer ones.’

‘We’re particularly encouraged to see an emphasis on practical guidance for employers. The CIPD is in a strong position to contribute research and insight to this to help demonstrate what works and how organisations can get to grips with the ageing workforce challenge today, before they face skills shortages that will affect their ability to grow or deliver key services in the very near future. At 50, many workers are at the top of their game, sitting on a wealth of knowledge and vital experience – the challenge is how to effectively retain and engage staff.’

The CIPD is recommending five essential components that should form an organisation’s strategy to address the ageing workforce challenges:

  1. Ensuring they have inclusive recruitment practices
  2. Improving the capability of line managers to manage an age-diverse workforce
  3. Investing in training and development that is based on potential, not age
  4. Supporting employee health and well-being across demographics
  5. Embracing the talent attraction and retention benefits of flexible working.

These calls to action echo recommendations the CIPD made last year, in response to an international research project focused on what employers need to consider if they wish to retain older workers. This comparative study on creating longer, more fulfilling working lives examined the policy frameworks and initiatives on offer to support older workers in five European countries. The report highlights some interesting examples of good employer practice in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany and the UK. Although each country is different in terms of its institutional framework, its history, its economy and its cultural norms and expectations, a common theme emerged from this research; all countries recognise that there’s a growing need to address the pressing issue of how to support older workers, but in most countries there’s a lack of formal and cohesive policies on how to do this at an organisational level. To help organisations develop holistic policies that will enable them to attract and retain the valuable skills and talent of older workers, the CIPD recommends employers consider the following as a starting point:

  • Workforce planning and age-diversity monitoring: employers should collect workforce data on a regular basis to help them prepare for future resourcing needs.
  • Supporting employee health and well-being: people can carry on working for longer if they receive the right support, and employers are willing to make - often minor adjustments - to facilitate their ongoing participation in work.
  • Providing training and development support: all employees, regardless of age, need training and development support to keep their skills up to date and enable them to plan the next stage of their career.
  • Helping employees balance work and caring responsibilities: employers need to think more creatively about the kind of support and flexibility that employees in this position may need. 
  • Managing retirement: everyone’s circumstances and attitudes towards retirement are different and arrangements should be tailored to individual needs as far as possible. 
  • Building an inclusive and age-diverse culture: employers need to develop a working environment that fosters age diversity and doesn’t tolerate bias based on age, even if it is unconscious. 
  • Tailoring solutions to suit individual need and training managers: Ultimately, it’s the relationship that an individual has with their line manager, and the level of support they receive, that is likely to influence their decision to stay or leave an organisation.

Inclusive recruitment practices become even more of an imperative when you flip the coin to consider the impact of an ageing workforce on talent pipelines. The CIPD’s guide for employers on managing a healthy ageing workforce revealed that the UK is running out of workers: current employer plans suggest that we’ll need to fill 13.5 million job vacancies in the next ten years, but only 7 million young people will leave school and college. With less people entering the labour pool, it's critical for employers to be able to embrace talent and fill roles.

An age-diverse workforce can deliver clear business benefits, for example enabling innovation, knowledge-sharing and enhanced customer service. Savvy employers are already taking action and realising the potential of the growing talent pool of people who are working longer, but also recognising that they need to protect their future talent pipelines by opening up opportunities for a wider range of people than they have in the past. For example, businesses like Standard Life, RBS and Scot Rail are working with the Scottish Government on skills development initiatives that will open up opportunities for groups of people who’ve traditionally been excluded from the labour market.

As intergenerational working becomes increasingly commonplace with the demographic shifts facing the UK and other countries, organisations that foster inclusivity will be on the front foot, already able to attract and retain key talent.

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About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.