• Opinion: Only L&D can save us from the demographic time bomb

  • 2 Feb 2017
  • Comments 1 comments

Organisations that don’t upskill older workers and support knowledge transfer are setting themselves up to fail, writes Barry Johnson

The working population is ageing. There are already 9.4 million people in employment over the age of 50 in the UK – equivalent to over 30 per cent of the workforce. The vast majority of this group will leave work permanently by age 62, taking their skills and experiences with them. There is a lack of young people to fill vacancies, and they all need to learn their jobs and gain experience.

Do you know the size of the age problem in your organisation? It will take time for new, older recruits to acquire the skillsets necessary to function at the same level as those who are leaving. While many myths abound about the older worker, attributes and competencies are not tied to age.

A recent survey of small to medium-sized businesses indicated that most employers believe learning and skills development is critical to ensuring that experienced employees can work effectively up to the age of 60 – and beyond. ‘And beyond’ are the essential words. The same survey also found that employers agree that such learning represents a good return on investment because older employees are more likely to remain engaged in the business than younger recruits. Statistics show the sickness absence records of the over 40s are also much better than those of people in their 20s and 30s, and that’s before you’ve even considered the most valuable asset older workers can bring to your organisation – experience.

If you know the size of the problem in your company, have you started working on it? Are older employees trainable? Stereotyping older workers as not being ‘tech savvy’, for example, is factually incorrect as well as being discriminatory. With an older workforce, it will be necessary to challenge the current cultural norms that mitigate learning and employment. Who said apprenticeships are for young people? Learning for the over 50s is beneficial for many reasons, and not only for improving the skills needed in the modern workplace. Learning in your older years keeps your brain active, and discussing ideas and socialising is an important part of the learning experience. It also aids mental balance and wellbeing.

Thinking differently about what your organisation needs, the people you have available and your role in helping them learn is the key to ensuring people have the skills, knowledge and attitudes required to support growth. It’s also instrumental in helping older employees contribute to the organisation without blocking promotion opportunities for younger staff.

The demographic shift, age legislation and the pensions crisis are driving organisations to adjust. In the next five years, we are likely to experience massive changes. The more sophisticated companies, motivated by the age agenda, are producing joined-up people policies. The key to the success of these will be the initiatives of L&D departments. You are the survival of your company. It is skilled, motivated, hardworking, dedicated people that make profits.

Barry Johnson is a non-executive director of Learning Partners

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  • How do we get this message across to the people who can influence learning in the workplace? Doesn't have to cost loads of money but it does require a mind set shift - learning is vital!!