Gradually, the average age of the UK’s labour force has
been increasing, with more employees opting to extend their working
lives. In light of this trend, which has now been recognised with a
change in employment legislation, should employers be doing more to
realise the full potential of their mature employees?
Since April 2011,
most employers can no longer impose a compulsory retirement age of
65, allowing older employees to remain in work for longer should
they choose to. Mature and experienced employees have a great deal
to offer the workplace. However, recognising that the training
needs and motivations of older employees may differ from other
sections of the workforce is crucial to unlocking latent
For those sectors facing skilled labour shortages, brought about
by the generation of baby boomers who took early retirement and a
shortage of skilled graduates to replace them, the new legislation
is well timed.
The ability to extend the careers of knowledgeable and
experienced workers is likely to be helpful to many companies
explains Simon Brandwood, Head of Careers and Employment Services
at the University of Wolverhampton:
"The change in legislation removing the compulsory retirement
age gives industry the opportunity to retain years of experience
and skills. Knowledge, especially industry specific knowledge, is a
key competitive advantage that until recently left the company with
the employee reaching the age of 65."
Whilst the retention of high levels of work experience is good
for productivity, the skills of older workers are more likely to
date back to knowledge they acquired before entry to the labour
market, or in the early stages of their careers. Reliance on
outdated skills could impact upon innovation and productivity, so
employers need to consider ways of maintaining the relevance of the
skills of older workers.
As the average age of employees rises, the mature workforce more
than ever will be called upon to meet new and emerging skill needs,
and therefore the development and advancement of employees who are
nearing or beyond normal retirement age should not be neglected.
For Simon Brandwood, meeting the training and education needs of
knowledgeable and skilled professionals is crucial:
"Skill shortages are ever apparent, especially in engineering.
The removal of a compulsory retirement age allows companies to
invest in their employees, meaning the development of the
individual and company alike."
In the past, training for employees nearing retirement may have
represented a poorer return on training investment for employers.
Likewise, for older employees the incentives to train in terms of
higher wages or improved job opportunities decrease as the period
in which they can realise these benefits becomes shorter. Now that
working lives are extending, there is greater impetus on employer
and employee to ensure that the employability and progression of
older workers is maintained through relevant training and
The shift in the age structure of the workforce is an
opportunity for employers to review their current training
practices to ensure that the skills of older workers are kept
up-to-date, enabling both employer to and employee to benefit. For
instance, employers may need to look at ways of making training and
its mode of delivery more attractive to their older employees.
The University of Wolverhampton works with employers to develop
suitable training provision. Flexibility is crucial, says Simon
"Providing modes of delivery which minimise disruption to work
routines such as on-the-job training, short courses or modular
courses has become increasingly important. The costs attached to
these are also likely to be recovered more quickly by employers and
Employers should recognise that the career motivations of older
employees may have changed over time. Workers at the latter stages
of their working lives may be less career driven, and possibly seek
roles with reduced levels of stress and responsibility. Utilising
the substantial skills these employees can bring to your business
in ‘softer roles’ makes good sense.
Mature employees are particularly well suited to mentoring or
coaching roles, both formal and informal. Older workers have a
great deal to offer organisations in terms of the knowledge and
experience they can pass to younger employees. These contributions
can add value to business performance and ideally should be
supported with relevant training and development to help them
perform these roles effectively.
The ageing of the labour force has proved to be more than a
passing phenomenon; it’s a business reality. Employers would be
wise to adapt their practices in order to get the most from their
mature workforce. Those who do so, are likely to realise the
greatest benefits for their business.
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