Could Brexit mean a breakthrough for older workers?

In Workforce by Judith Wardell

The Brexit decision to leave the European Union has created a period of uncertainty for HR professionals seeking to sustain a skilled and motivated workforce.

The latest Labour Market Outlook report from the CIPD shows that 21% of organisations are considering slowing down on hiring and reducing their investment in training and skills development in the light of the Brexit vote. Change and uncertainty often causes organisations to but the brakes on innovation and growth until the future becomes clearer.

However, it is sensible to assume that recruiting EU migrant workers is set to get harder and more costly.  So surely the case for investing in UK workers can’t be stronger? And with over 30% of the workforce in the UK aged over 50, this must mean that older workers should be at the core of our HR strategies.

It is estimated that over the next 10 years the number of job vacancies created due to older people leaving the workforce will be 12.5 million, with only 7 million new young people to fill these jobs (Business in the  Community 2015). With further tightening of UK immigration and work permit rules the only way to avoid an economic crisis is to encourage older workers to remain active in the workforce for longer.

Future talent management must start with an understanding of how and where value is created in your organisation today and where it will come from in the future. In the same CIPD survey, nearly a third of companies that employ migrant workers were unable to say what percentage of their workforce is made up of migrant staff.  It would be safe to assume that they would similarly be unable to identify the age profile of their workforce.

Value older workers

It may come as a surprise to many business leaders and HR professionals just how much of their organisation’s intellectual property and expertise sits with older workers. Older workers who are vulnerable to leaving if they feel unsupported or undervalued.

Research shows that many older workers are leaving the workforce prematurely. There is almost a 65% drop in the employment rate between the ages of 53 and 68. Many older workers report feeling pushed out of the workforce due to redundancy, early retirement, ill health or through a lack of support with caring responsibilities. It is estimated that approximately 1.2 million people aged over 50 would be willing to work; equivalent to 26% of those people aged 50-64 who are currently out of work and 45.8% of all those out of work aged 50-54. (‘The missing million: illuminating the employment challenges of the over 50s’; BITC and ILC 2014)

Brexit could be the breakthrough that many older workers have been waiting for. A time when employers begin to recognise the value of retaining experienced people and adapt working practices to meet their needs. When businesses take seriously the need to consider flexible working and support people with caring responsibilities. When training and career development opportunities are available to people of all ages.

For those who are currently unemployed, Brexit may be the trigger that forces the recruitment industry to end age discrimination and ditch outdated stereotypes of older workers. The trigger for employers to want to invest in recruiting and retraining from the talent pool that has been ignored for so long.

HR professionals and business leaders have the opportunity to take a more strategic view of the workforce  and recognise that an age diverse workforce is the key to talent management and business success.

Click here to view Mission Millions report.

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