13/03/2017 06:40 GMT | Updated 17/02/2018 05:12 GMT

Older And Wiser - And Good For Business

Recently I saw the launch of a campaign aimed to wake up UK employers. It ought to be one that is seen as a "no brainer" by business leaders and yet I fear it is not - bizarre given the skills shortages organisations already face which are now likely to be exacerbated in our post-Brexit world.

I have written before about the tragedy of those over the age of 50 who have been squeezed out of the workplace yet want to work - BITC (Business in the Community) did a stellar piece of research in 2014 that highlighted the issue and which also showed that if the skills and abilities of the 50-64 age group were fully utilised and the employment rate matched that of those in their 30s and 40s, UK GDP could be around 5-6% higher.

The brilliant book by Linda Grattan and Andrew Scott published last year The 100 Year Life (which should be standard reading for any business leader by the way) sets out the world we have now entered where one in three 20-year-olds are likely to live to be centenarians - twice the likelihood of their parents. The old model of education, career and then retirement is increasingly outmoded - shifting to one of multiple careers, active breaks from working life and a search for those employers who will provide flexibility and support to help us through these transitions and give us life balance.

At the campaign launch there were three statistics that stood out for me - by the year 2030 half of the adults in the UK will be aged 50 and over; by 2020 the over 50s will comprise almost one third of the working age population and almost half of the adult population. 2020 is only three years away. And yet research we did at Prophet last year which built on the original "Missing Millions" BITC study showed that the workplace is full of negative stereotypes about older workers. The default judgement is "cost and burden" rather than "experience and skills "and dare I also say "potential".

Andy Briggs, CEO of Aviva, who is the Government Business Champion for Older Workers, has highlighted three myths often quoted that needed busting: that older workers struggle with technology, that they cost the business more because of sickness absence and that they cruise along simply focused on retirement with no desire to learn and progress.

Again BITC research has shown that not only do mature professionals keep up with changing technologies, there is no overall difference between the job performance of older and younger workers that can be attributed to technology. They also report that data from leading insurers shows that older workers are half as likely to take a sick day compared to their younger counterparts. And finally 91% of workers aged 50 and over are keen to further develop their careers.

Yet these myths - and many more - continue to abound and age discrimination is a reality inside many organisations and the third party recruiters many of them use. What is the answer?

The campaign calls for one more million people aged between 50 and 64 to be in employment by 2022, with the same range of options and opportunities as younger colleagues, and to be recognised for their experience and expertise. To do this each employer in the UK would need to increase the number of people aged 50-69 in work by 12%.

They advise organisations to step up under three categories of activity: understanding the workforce profile, listening to what older employees need and taking action to improve retention and attraction as a result.

There are no short cuts to "understanding and listening" - as those of us who work in the world of culture and engagement know. It's a mind-set thing of course - going beyond managing for "unconscious bias" to actually being active in looking for the signs of what more mature workers need to help them flourish in the workplace - and as a result helping them deliver on-going value to colleagues and customers alike. I'd like to think of it as more akin to an "always on" approach to employee engagement.

Last year I had the privilege of judging the BITC Award for Inclusive Culture - and if ever there was a story to show what listening, understanding and taking action can bring, the winner of this award had it all. I urge you to watch the story of Stephen Shaw on the BITC website - with a tissue or two to hand.

It is a microcosm of what needs to happen - but be in no doubt - it needs to happen! With 14.5 million more jobs likely to be created by 2022 and only 7 million younger people forecast to enter the workforce by that time, we have a gap to bridge of some scale.