Scotland the Blog: Why my fish finger sandwich tells you more about Scotland’s future than the Salmond and Darling dogfight

>The real issue of course is that Scotland needs more trained, and productive people in work to pay for whatever kind of country we end up choosing on September 18th

Recently in a fancy railway pub in Glasgow, I was shocked out of my iPod browsing stupor when the posh fish finger sandwich I ordered was brought to my table. The pub is famous for having lots of twenty something staff many of the men sporting luxuriant beards so that they look older. They are typical of the current hospitality workforce. But maybe they won’t be so typical in future. The woman who delivered my lunch was unmistakably not young, nearly eighty according to the other bar staff. The fact that she is working in that type of job is an indication the fact that many older people want to work and Scotland needs them at work.

Pubs generally aside from the giant chains are SME’s. CIPD’s recent Age Diversity report in collaboration with the NHS organisation Healthy Working Lives probed age diversity in SME’s across the UK, with a good Scottish sample. On average SME’s have about 5% in their workforce who are over the age of 65. The report indicates that Scottish SME’s who have about double that number are in a better place. They are much less likely to find recruiting, training and developing mature workers a problem than those in the rest of the UK. Just as well because whatever happens after a certain date, we need many of them in work.

Like everyone else in Scotland I watched the big referendum rammy. Wee Eck judged to be behind on points, tried to reverse Gentleman Al’s point’s victory in the last bout. Much was made of the ferocity of the exchange. At one time an exasperated Darling said “now haud oan”. That’s how annoyed he was. It was clearly response to Salmond slipping in references to “the messages and the mortgage” which cleverly addressed different socio economic groups concerns about the currency with a bit homespun patter and Scottish dialect.

The debate focused too much on oil though public services like the NHS also featured. Pensions also got a good airing though the debate focused narrowly on the benefits and how they would be paid for. The real issue of course is that Scotland needs more, trained and productive people in work to pay for whatever kind of country we end up choosing on September 18th. Whether Scotland can actually pay the level of pension it seeks either as an independent country or as part of the UK, is a huge question. The data is clear: with a 5.3 million population we face a demographic detonation around 2030 when a lot of older workers like me will retire. When we look at the proportion of households which will be headed by someone aged 65 and over (well past peak working age), that category will increase to 60%. Between 2010 and 2035. Those of the younger age group will only increase by about 10% (Scottish Government Census 2011).

Not that many young people ready to replace the older baby boomers who will already have retired. With the promise of taking annuity cash, maybe even less. The fact is that we don’t have enough young people. Immigration managed according to required skills will help but we need to make the best of the older workforce as it matures. We also need to make sure our workforce's are aligned for age diversity. Our report gives a great deal of insight on how that can be achieved.

The big referendum punch up hardly touched on this sort of question. The pension’s debate which needs answers was mainly about entitlements and transfers and not how we might actually have older people in work. The Scottish government makes a great deal of Scotland’s lower life expectancy but both sides should be addressing the fact that in future Scotland’s workforce will have to look very different.

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  • Interesting anecdote and even more interesting look at the statistics! I wonder if the fact that many young people go to Scotland to study because of the excellent universities, but leave back south upon finishing. I'm certainly guilty of that. Should universities work more closely with employers to keep the new graduates in the country?

  • One of the challenges for HR professionals in practical terms is to deal with the differences of view when they manifest themselves in workplaces. Its likely that this is not going to be a resounding victory for either side, so there will be the inevitable coffee cup/water cooler conflicts. In a future world where sustained competitive advantage is dependent on the quality of partnerships and connections, maintaining positivite relations with people who are intellectually and politically diverse from you is a key capability that HR can help with.....rather that than a knuckle sandwich to replace the fish fingers.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post John.  I too can see the need for Scotland to have a more diverse work force.  I also see the current brain drain to England/Europe that another poster mentioned.  It will be interesting to see what happens next, that is for sure.  

    If it's a yes in a fortnight, will the brain drain get worse when the funding for scientific research and the like stops and people move to where that work goes?  Or will there be in influx of people from rUK to the Land of the Free to make their fortune?

  • Thanks everyone these are big important issues. I suppose it’s a bit like the urgent/important matrix. While we deal with urgent skills problems we need to keep this challenge front of mind.

    Frank's point about a “knuckle sandwich” rather than the fish finger variety if we have inter generational conflict is a good one. However, though there has been a lot of commentary about intergenerational conflict. I think even "two brains" Willets overstates this. Young people share in the resources of their baby boomer parents and even grandparents.

    The issue about a brain drain or a centrifugal pull towards Scotland, that’s another important point. As Matthew knows we have some great cities, renowned universities and already our oil and gas industry is a cosmopolitan talent hub. Great to get your further views these are big issues for HR though that need thinking about as you clearly all are!