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Balancing the needs of older and younger workers

Posted on 01/07/2013 by Jamie Horton in Category Local authorities
The recently announced ONS stats highlighted that the number of people over 65 in employment is increasing significantly. This is largely due to a complex mix of high inflation and costs of living as well as record levels of low interest rates, coupled with a population that is living longer. This mix has created significant uncertainty for older workers and has resulted in a rise in the numbers putting off retirement or returning to work later in life.

This is particularly true in the public sector, and is evidenced by the recent Comensura Government Index which showed a year on year increase of 25.6% of over 65s* in temporary labour within the sector. According to the ONS stats, while the number of over 65s in employment has increased, permanent employment within the public sector is still declining, by as much as 22,000 in the first quarter of 2013.

Both the public and private sector’s most important asset remains its people. Without the right people, it’s unlikely that it can meet its objectives in an effective manner. Temporary labour is an increasingly important aspect of a good workforce planning strategy. Yet it is common for most workforce plans to focus almost entirely on permanent labour and make a token gesture to temporary labour usage – usually to state that numbers should decrease. This approach to workforce planning has to change with more thought given to how permanent and temporary workforces can work in tandem to deliver a highly flexible (where appropriate) and cost effective solution.

Temporary labour offers an immediate solution to a short term resourcing problem and it adds a high level of flexibility to an organisation’s workforce – taking away the necessity of hiring managers to financially commit to a permanent hire.  Temporary labour should also not be viewed as unskilled. Our Government Index has frequently reported the growing trend towards more temporary workers in professional grade roles. These highly skilled workers add in-depth, senior level expertise to an organisation as it often comprises older, highly experienced and expert people who have been there and done it.

As older workers remain in employment, another challenge will be the greater need for robust succession planning and training. With an increasing number of older workers staying in jobs there may potentially be less career progression opportunities for younger workers. This must not be allowed to happen and employers should not overlook what is happening in the here and now. Effort and resources should be focused on the bigger picture and it is essential that training and development opportunities should continue to be provided to younger, high potential employees.

But the ageing workforce also presents a number of opportunities. As already mentioned, the ability to access highly skilled and experienced workers can add real value but it can also play a fundamental role in skills transfer and mentoring of younger, perhaps less experienced colleagues. Investing in an ageing workforce is beneficial in many respects, not only for organisations and individuals, but also for the economy and society as a whole. It can help to maintain and promote the active participation of older people in the labour market and in society in general, limit the pressures on social care, health and pensions and improve an individual’s quality of life and wellbeing.

Predictions that the retirement age will be pushed to as much as 70, means the need to balance continued working with other interests and responsibilities will continue to be of concern for older workers. By providing employees with flexible retirement opportunities such as the ability to work reduced hours, introducing flexible working hours, or offering different roles, employers will make graduated retirement more attractive for the older employee and ensure they retain valuable knowledge and skills while lowering overall workforce costs.

So there are a number of challenges and opportunities with an ageing workforce.  However, what is clear is the need for a balanced, integrated and coherent HR and recruitment strategy, which will help develop overall capability and expertise. This will ensure effective use and management of older workers, securing the skills and experience it needs now. In addition, and if done correctly through comprehensive workforce and succession planning, it will provide a framework to plan and develop younger workers, helping them to progress and meet their medium to long-term skill requirements.​