How employers can address skills gaps in older workers

We live in a time when the ageing workforce is reducing, with older workers leaving the workforce or retiring in increasing numbers - but how can that skills gap be addressed?

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Exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, this phenomenon has resulted in large numbers of talented older workers being lost to the workforce at a time when there is a surplus of jobs.

How many older people are - and aren’t - in the workforce? 

The Centre for Ageing’s annual State of Ageing Report 2022 said even though the state pension age has risen to 66, employment rates among people approaching retirement age have fallen to their lowest levels since 2016.

The report found the number of people aged 50 to 64 either not working, or not looking for work, has risen by 228,000 since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with the employment rate in this group having fallen by 1.8 percentage points.

An article in the House of Lords Library, published in February 2022, produced similar findings.

It said labour market figures show a record number of job vacancies in the UK, with older workers leaving the workforce at a higher rate cited as one reason for this.

The article also quotes Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures from November 2021 to January 2022 showing there were 1,298,400 job vacancies in the UK - an increase of 513,700 from pre-pandemic January to March 2020 levels.

And it says official statistics have shown the pandemic affected older workers to a greater extent than those in lower age groups, resulting in a reduction of older workers in employment.

The article also highlights that the ONS found the employment rate for those aged 50 to 64 fell from 72.6% in the period between December 2019 and February 2020, to 71.1% in the same period the following year.

It is therefore vitally important that companies provide continuous learning for older employees, to both retain those who are left in the workforce and tempt those who have left it to return.

What skill gaps do older workers have? 

It is vitally important for businesses to retain older workers by investing in upskilling them.

But first it is necessary to recognise what the main skill gaps older workers face are. No one person is the same, so this will vary depending on an individual and their role.

Recent research from the City & Guilds Group showed that adults aged 55 and over are at the highest risk of being left behind when it comes to formal training for older workers.

It showed older workers are the least likely people in the workforce to have undertaken formal training in the last five years – with only 53% having done so, compared to 67% of 35- to 54-year-olds and 83% of 18-to-34-year-olds.

This lack of work-based learning means many older workers fall short of the necessary skills to progress or do their jobs properly.

How can employers address a skills gap during recruitment? 

One way employers can address a tech skills gaps and any other weaknesses is by examining non-traditional and diverse talent pools.

These include older workers, as well as other areas such as people with disabilities or overseas workers.

Older adults are a valuable source of talent, bringing added experience and skills honed over decades of employment.

By focusing recruitment methods on a candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities, companies can tap into desirable talent pools. Older workers job knowledge and polished skills will shine through in this scenario.

Thinking about diversity is another solution. In addition to race and gender, consider age diversity and be open to considering applications from those changing career.

How can employers address a skills gap during employment? 

Lifelong learning and training for older workers are extremely important when it comes to ensuring skills gaps are eliminated.

It would be a mistake for businesses to think they can resolve skills shortages simply by employing new, younger people. Even the youngest of employees can have skills gaps.

Work-based learning has the potential to play a key role in helping older workers to remain productive in the labour market for longer. Such lifelong learning can ensure workers’ skills and knowledge remain relevant, plugging any potential gaps

Businesses can benefit hugely from the knowledge and experience of existing employees. Upskilling these people through continuous learning will make sure such knowledge remains within a company, while also keeping it relevant and employees engage.


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