QA won this year’s Top Employer Award for Older Workers. Workingwise.co.uk asked them what it is they do for older workers and why it matters.
People tend to assume that the tech sector is for younger generations. But tech training and skills provider QA’s workforce puts paid to that assumption.
The company, whose mission is to help its colleagues, students and clients “win in the digital revolution”, is proud of its multigenerational workforce and monitors age among other protected characteristics. In fact, 10% of its workforce will reach retirement age by 2029 and 20% of the employees who deliver its learning services will reach 65 by 2029.
QA – which won this year’s Best for Older Workers Award at the WM People Top Employer Awards – is also keen to address myths that older people can’t learn new skills. “Everyone gets older and just because you are older doesn’t mean you can’t learn new skills,” says Talent Management Consultant Ben Dixon.
He adds that people are increasingly likely to have several careers and to want to try something different, particularly given greater longevity. QA tries to make it easier for people to switch course and try different possibilities at any age.
“A lot of emphasis and investment goes into people’s early careers and training. Often once you have learned a trade and get to management level you are ignored, but managers are calling out for development,” says Ben. “Often it is just assumed that leaders don’t need to update their skills because they have years of experience.”
QA adopts an age inclusive approach at all levels of the organisation, starting with its apprenticeships which are open to all ages, with 59% of new apprentices being older workers. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, it uses the Diversity and Inclusion consultancy the Clear Company’s framework, known as Clear Assured, to help navigate inclusion in a more structured and systematic way. Within six months of using it, QA had achieved Bronze Accreditation linked to processes and practices that are inclusive to all, including older workers.
In addition, all hiring managers are trained in the kind of reasonable adjustments they can make to ensure the workplace is accessible to all and that the assessment process is fair for all applicants. QA has also created a Dignity at Work policy that states its code of conduct and defines discrimination and signposts how to act, specifically defining ageism and microaggressions to be aware of.
All line managers have taken workshops in managing multigenerational teams with the company focusing on best practice in this area. It is also looking to develop a reverse mentoring pilot where senior directors can nominate themselves to be mentored by diversity, equity and inclusion champions.
With rising awareness of workplace issues relating to the menopause, QA has taken decisive action. Last year, after a one-off menopause forum before Covid, it set up a menopause community following interest from all levels of the business. The community is now 80-people strong, is employee-led and hosts regular meetings and events. It has had a lot of support from senior leaders, including the chief people officer and the executive diversity champion who have attended meetings to speak about the menopause at work in order to normalise conversations.
QA is looking to train menopause advocates to share knowledge and signpost people to support. The group is now the biggest and most interactive network at QA, offering a forum where people can share stories and provide informal mentorship. Ben says that the buzz about the network and QA’s menopause friendly status is such that some new starters are asking to join the group as soon as they start.
QA is developing a management training curriculum to help managers have difficult conversations about different personal issues including domestic abuse, racism, sexual harassment, with menopause being one topic. When it comes to the menopause, the aim is to empower managers to listen, make any necessary adjustments and signpost people to further support if needed. QA is also looking to train menopause advocates to work in the business.
The focus on conversations and listening is also how QA is approaching wellbeing, performance and development issues with a diversity and inclusion lens, using its performance management tool, Clear Review provided by the Clear Company. Every quarter employees have a development conversation to plan for the future.
Flexible working is a key part of the company’s wellbeing approach. During the pandemic the company created a hybrid working conversation on the Clear Review system so that parents could get a better work life balance, which has significantly improved its employee engagement.
In 2021 the company launched a hybrid working scheme which is about employee-led conversations that allow people to talk about their priorities and to find a way forward that works for them and their team. Line managers were offered training with regard to return to work conversations, with employees falling into one of three categories – 100% office, 100% remote or hybrid. If the category doesn’t work the employee can have a conversation and change it. That policy is now being reviewed. QA is cross referencing its hybrid working survey with its engagement survey to see if there is any difference in engagement related to a person’s pattern of working so they can spot any potential challenges. Meanwhile, training has become hybrid too, with Covid being a spur to improving the technology involved.
QA is also keen to do more to promote age inclusivity not just internally but through its training programmes and it works with its trainers to avoid age bias.
Over 41% of participants in its recent Teach the Nation to Code programme were older workers. Its StandUpStandOut programme is a nine-week programme which arms unemployed older people with digital skills. It also works with the Department for Education on its Bootcamp programme which teaches data skills and machine learning. Out of last
August’s cohort of 522, 309 starters were over 40.
QA has partnered with the Tech Talent Charter to deliver Hackathons to reskill older workers and get them into tech and its work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport includes a 12-week programme targeted at career changers and people returning from career breaks.
It is also beating the drum externally for older workers. QA sponsored the first National Older Workers Week in 2021. Ben says this not only signalled to potential talent that the organisation is inclusive, but sent a broader societal message. He says: “We want older workers not to feel their options are limited. We want them to feel they can start new careers,
change jobs and access lifelong learning. We want to show that we care and that older workers and the experience they bring is valued.”
*Profiles of all the winners of this year’s WM People Top Employer Awards will be published in our Best Practice Report coming soon.