Digital Readiness


A skills plan that works just as well for older staff as it does for younger

Skills plan older workers
Businesses which fail to provide for older workers risk missing out on valuable contributions

With the age of retirement set to hit 66 by 2020, it’s vital that companies ensure a skills plan is in place that’s as appropriate to people in their sixties as it is to those aged 16.

Older workers are a great resource for companies, one that is often unappreciated. According to government figures, although the employment rate for working age adults is at a record high of almost 75 per cent, it falls to around 50 per cent for those over 60. Meanwhile, between 2012 and 2022, 14.5m people are expected to exit the workforce through retirement, while only seven million are expected to join it. It is also estimated that by 2035, people aged 50 and over will comprise half of the UK adult population.

In 2017, Barclays, Boots, Aviva and the Co-op among others announced that each organisation will be increasing the number of over-50s employed by 12 per cent by 2022. These companies pledged to publicise the progress made.

Barclays, where around 17 per cent of the workforce are 50 or above, recently announced that it will actively recruit, retain and retrain older workers with a dedicated skills plan. The bank’s Bolder Apprenticeships programme, launched in September 2015, and the Welcome Back initiative are aimed at encouraging individuals to return into the work force. Brian Buckley, who is on the Bolder Apprenticeship scheme, said: “It has given me a real confidence boost and a new, positive outlook on life. I now have a goal, and it’s encouraging me to go further.”

At an SME level

Pimlico Plumbers, which was founded in 1979 and has a turnover of £20m, also has a policy of employing older workers and providing them with a skills plan. “We have no prejudice against people, whatever their age,” said Karl Plunkett, public relations director at the firm. “We find that very often older people have the kind of skills and experience that we need. Someone in their seventies, for instance, has seen so much in their life and they know how the world works. There might be something that was done in the past that they know of that we can use today.”

The company ensures that its older workers have support with technology and IT systems and it provides extra training on modern business practices where necessary. “The most important thing for us is that they’re keen and they have an active mind,” said Plunkett. “We look at the individual – not their age.”

Mario Rebellato was working for the then deputy prime minister John Prescott and was facing retirement at the age of 65 when he read about a 100 year-old who was working at Pimlico Plumbers’ as a van cleaner. He approached the company and is now executive assistant to founder Charlie Mullins.

Mario Pimlico Plumbers
Mario Rebellato has found a business that values his experience and mindset

Rebellato, 76, who served in the Italian army and then spent 35 years in various management positions at tailors and fashion retailer Austin Reed, said: “I think being older gives you a broader perspective and I’m told that my experience makes me relatively relaxed as a colleague,” he said. The skills plan that the company has devised for him takes into account not just his age, but his previous working experience.

In many cases the type of training and skills plans available to younger workers can easily be transferred to those in the older age bracket, according to insurance company Aviva. The business employs 3,000 people aged over 50, out of a total workforce of 16,000 at its offices around the UK.

“We train people for the opportunities we have in the business, and that’s open to all candidates,” said Andy Briggs, Aviva UK Insurance CEO and the government’s business champion for older workers.

“We simply do not differentiate between those people coming to us for a second career and in need of training and any other potential employee. For instance, our apprenticeship scheme is open to applicants of all ages, not just people starting out in their careers. Our oldest apprentice is in their 60s and is training in a new skill area. We are piloting mid-life career reviews including access to learning and development where a need has been identified.”

Tailored approach

In its 2017 report “The Missing Link: An Aging Working in the Digital Era“, Business in the Community, a business-led membership organisation made up of progressive businesses, argued that older people are not receiving the skills and training they need.

“With more over-50s in work than ever before, and an ageing population, employers simply cannot afford to write older workers off,” said employment director Catherine Sermon. “At a time when we need to lift UK productivity for everyone, business needs to consider how it can encourage more older workers to embrace life-long learning. Whilst older workers want to keep developing, they are not necessarily motivated by formal learning and qualifications.”

She went on: “That’s why employers should look at different approaches to training to make opportunities more accessible, get feedback on the barriers older workers face and develop targeted approaches and support for specific groups of older workers. By delivering learning in a range of ways, employers will be able to engage their full workforce in skills development, benefitting individuals, business and society as a whole.”

Mentors can help with the development of skills plans for older workers, according to the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. “One way in which organisations can harness the benefits of an age diverse workforce is through introducing cross-generational mentoring – this is a fantastic way to enable skills and knowledge sharing between employees, and a key benefit to age-diverse workforces,” said Claire McCartney, the CIPD’s diversity and inclusion adviser.

Around 30 per cent of the workforce of Harding Evans Solicitors are aged 50 and above. “They work throughout all levels of the business, from newly-qualified solicitors and support staff, right through to partners and senior management,” said Sam Carter, head of operations at the Newport-based firm which employs over 110 staff and was founded just over 100 years ago.

“Being hard working, passionate and knowledgeable doesn’t have an age limit, everybody wants to develop their careers in the same way,” she added. “We want to give everyone equal opportunities, it would be of no benefit to us to discriminate based on age. Often older workers have years of vital experience that can be just what we’re looking for in the legal sector, so it addresses those key areas where we may need a particular skill.”

The firm has developed a skills plan for its older workers that encompasses all areas of their work and responsibilities. “We’ve always been a progressive firm and believe that mapping the way for our staff to be able to progress is key to securing and retaining our future leaders,” said Carter. “We have a large support team made up of marketers, developers, admin staff, IT and HR that are always on hand to train and develop people in the areas that they want to learn more about to support them in fulfilling their main role to the best of their ability.”

Rather than being seen as a cost centre and a burden as far as skills and training are concerned, employing older workers provides important benefits, Carter has found. “We believe that having a multi-generational workforce not only benefits the individuals, but will address any future skills shortages and again make a difference to the business in the long-term by securing our future owners. As the saying goes ‘age is just a number’. We employ based on skill, knowledge and passion for the job – staff of all ages bring so much to our firm, challenging and learning from each other every day.”

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