THE BLOG
19/06/2015 07:23 BST | Updated 17/06/2016 06:59 BST

The Ageing Workforce

As the well documented skills gap continues to impact British businesses, many are convinced that the answer to this is to tap into the over-50 workforce.

Those 'expensive' employees who have been moved out through a round of redundancies, are now the government's solution to what was described by Katja Hall, Deputy Director of the CBI as "the number one workforce threat to the long-term health of [the UK] economy".

As a legal recruitment specialist firm we work closely with a number of solicitors, who after successful careers are choosing to take on short term locum contracts. These contracts offer greater flexibility, variety of work and less stress and we work with several locums who are nearing retirement as well as several who have continued to work well past retirement age.

It is interesting to consider what the motivations for continuing to work after well into your retirement are as it seems the perception of retiring to the seaside in your 60s is becoming less and less common. The CIPD found in 2012 that 50% of workers over 55 planned to work beyond the state pension age.

From speaking to candidates over the years I've heard many people talk to me about their motivations to continue working. The most common reason tends to be financial, but many also enjoy the opportunity to socialise with colleagues, or continue to use their skills and knowledge.

This week I spoke one of our locum solicitors who is approaching 65. I asked him if he intended to retire soon;

"To be honest, whilst my pension is good, it's not really enough to live on and enjoy life the way that I am able to now. In reality, I could have another 35 years left - my brain is active and work is still enjoyable, why would I stop working now?"

Whilst it seems that the legal sector has embraced retaining its older talent, it is clear that that not all industries and organisations have.

Dr Ros Altman is the government's 'older workers' champion who's primary aim is to tackle ageism within employment. When I think about it, ageism is almost the last 'acceptable' discrimination. As a business, we hear time and time again that our clients want a "young creative, with fresh ideas", they certainly wouldn't casually throw in suggestions around gender or race when we establish their needs.

In April we saw the launch of the 'Older worker' champion's scheme, which has been spearheaded by Dr Altman. This UK wide 'career guidance' scheme will offer practical advice on how the over 50s can re-enter the workforce, but in my opinion, it is far more important for employers to consider what their business can do to retain talent in the first place.

My colleague Simon Briffa is CIPD qualified and spent eight years managing training at The Co-operative prior to joining Sellick Partnership. He says that training is a vital, but contentious issue for the older workforce.

"Unless a business really has a culture of learning and continued development at the heart of it, it's very difficult to tell a colleague with 30 years' experience that their management technique needs work." He commented. "However, this doesn't mean that it isn't worth trying".

I asked Simon about why he believes that so many older workers have felt 'pushed out' of employment.

"There is a greater need for flexibility, particularly for those that have family commitments or that don't need to work for financial reasons. If employers aren't prepared to offer flexible working hours, then that employee is unlikely to continue working.

"There is much research which suggests that there are several widely held beliefs about older workers. They are more prone to suffer from ill health, they are unmotivated, they are difficult to manage and are less adaptable to change and new technology." He said. "But the evidence disproves all of these perceptions."

As the Office of National Statistics found, long-term health and fitness is improving and life expectancy continues to rise - most people in their 60s are predicted to live into their 90s, with some living beyond 110, it is understandable that 65 is no longer the age that everyone wants to stop working.

I also can't help but wonder if "difficult to manage" is often code for "able to challenge leaders". I know that I've only grown in confidence since starting my career, and I'm also far more aware when I'm being spun a line or things aren't being delivered to a high enough standard - I can't really imagine a time when I wouldn't challenge a poor decision...

And as for the technology belief, Age UK found in 2013 that the number of people aged 65 who had used the internet previously, had overtaken the number that had not, for the first time. We are all becoming more tech-savvy in the advent of smart phones, e-readers and online shopping.

The onus here, is almost entirely on the employers. Attention must be paid to ensure working is an appealing option for our older workforce and retention of good people whatever their age is made possible through training, flexible working practices and ensuring that the business culture is inclusive enough to retain people of all ages.