Tapping into the talent of older workers

Nicky Pattimore, Chief People and Customer Officer, City & Guilds 

Middle aged woman standing at workplace


It is no secret that the UK is facing an acute shortage of essential skills in vital sectors.

Among the many long-term impacts of Covid-19, one has been significant disruption to the education and training system, compounding the existing problems around a lack of new talent entering vital industries. This, in turn, has meant that ambitious government plans to develop infrastructure are at significant risk due to a lack of skilled workers to bring them to fruition.

In these circumstances, the vital role of older workers in helping to meet the needs of business and industry, as well as their own aspirations, has never been greater.

We know that older workers already make up a significant proportion of the workforce, with recent data from CIPD showing that almost one third (30%) of the total workforce is over 50. 

In some of the most essential industries in the UK this figure is even higher – 50% of workers in agriculture are 50+, 33% in construction, 36% in health and social care and 29% in the energy sector. It is clear that our older workers are vital in keeping the country fed, housed, cared for, and able to keep the lights on.

City & Guilds’ own research has showed that employers frequently underestimate the value these workers can offer and the importance of providing them with the ongoing opportunity to develop and expand their skills.

In our Great Jobs report, we found that just 14% of employers are considering retraining older workers to combat skills shortages. Doing so not only limits the potential for career development among older workers, but also leaves employers at risk of failing to capitalise on the value experienced colleagues can offer. 

Our research also found that older workers are the least likely to have received workplace training in the last decade, with just 28% having done so. For older workers to be able to offer their greatest potential contribution it is essential that they are equipped with up-to-date skills which can complement their experience.

This lack of workplace training is clearly being felt by older workers themselves – our survey found that just 47% felt that they have the skills necessary to succeed at work.

It is clear that there is a need for employers to re-evaluate the way they look at older workers. Effective workforce and succession planning relies not only on recruiting young people into the workforce, but also on creating opportunities for older workers to pass on their valuable skills and experience to the next generation. Attracting and retaining these experienced professionals will mean ensuring that their ambitions and aspirations are considered, ensuring they have access to the training they want to update and develop their skills.

It will also mean employers becoming more open to recruiting older workers transitioning between sectors. Soft skills acquired over a long career can easily translate to new industries, with older workers being equipped with specific technical skills being developed through bitesize, flexible training designed to fit around the existing commitments of those in full time work.

At City & Guilds, we help employers to make effective use of the Adult Education Budget (AEB), a £1bn Government-funded training budget for adults aged 19+ that covers more than 800 different qualifications.

We have entire teams dedicated to helping employers navigate adult skills development opportunities. We’re committed to work together with our partners and employers to ensure that more people benefit from the AEB. If you are an employer looking to retrain your older workforce, we’d encourage you to:

  • Engage more in conversation about adult funded courses, in order to generate interest, awareness and understanding for your eligible employees. 
  • Look for training providers who provide more flexible learning models to accommodate adults as they work, juggle costs of living, and raise their families. (Make use of distance learning, online learning, and blended learning.)
  • Consider running multiple courses, more advanced courses and longer courses, to get the very best out of upskilling endeavours for willing-to-learn and capable employees.
  • If you are already running apprenticeship programmes, think about where AEB-funded courses could add further value to existing apprenticeships where applicable and where the learner is eligible. Explore these options, while being sure that the adult skills course will not interfere with the apprenticeship, but rather enhance it. 
  • Always work closely with your training provider to identify and curate tailored qualifications that meet your unique skills requirements. 
  • Mostly, don’t be afraid to ask for help during the application process, adult skills course selection process and in the weeks or months that follow – when accessing course materials, undergoing assessments and implementing learning objectives.

Visit our Adult Skills page for more information. 

[Discover City & Guilds’ Adult Skills and AEB offer]

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