Dr Cynthia Marks, Campaign Manager at BITC Scotland looks back on a successful conference that explored how Scotland can secure business and economic success as the workforce ages - and why the need to act is now.
BITC Scotland, in partnership with Age Scotland, CIPD, the Scottish Government and the University of Edinburgh Business School, welcomed over 100 delegates to a half-day conference on 26 September 2018 in Edinburgh to explore how Scotland can secure business and economic success as our workforce ages.
Scotland’s workforce is ageing dramatically. According to the Scottish Government, in the past 20 years the number of people aged 45-64 has increased by 26% whilst the number of people aged 25-44 has fallen by 8%.
Older workers are increasingly important to the Scottish economy, yet employers have been slow to recognise this demographic reality. Unless businesses actively make changes to recruit, retain and re-train older workers, they are likely to experience skills shortages, increased employee turnover and loss of corporate knowledge.
BITC’s Age Campaign shines a spot light on how business can reap the benefits of an ageing population and create workplaces where age is not a barrier to success. It produces a range of practical resources to help companies take action.
Andy Briggs, Chief Executive Officer of Aviva UK Insurance and chair of the BITC Age Leadership Team gave the plenary at our conference and busted several myths about older workers that the BITC Age Campaign had commissioned.
He also highlighted the business case for being an age inclusive employer and shared what Aviva had been doing to support older workers, including taking on an apprentice at 68!
Andy said: “The successful organisations of the future will be those who can adapt and respond to the needs of an ageing population. Today, over 50’s account for half of all UK consumer spending. That is a business case for employing over 50’s in itself – know your customer!”
This business case was further strengthened by Shirley Campbell, Director for People at Scottish Water and a member of Business in the Community. Shirley talked about how an ageing workforce was not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be responded to. By proactively planning for and addressing an age reality, businesses could ensure that they recruited the best talent, retained the best skills and employed a productive, creative and sustainable workforce.
Shirley said:“All Scottish Water employees have talent and these talents should be developed to their full potential and deployed across the organisation to progress Scottish Water’s Vision.”
During our panel discussion, which was chaired by John McGurk of CIPD, the speakers identified four verbs to highlight actions for employers to create age inclusive workplaces: Listening, Talking, Doing and Normalising.
Businesses were encouraged to listen to their current workforce to find out how they are experiencing existing policies around flexible working, retirement, recruitment and training to see where improvements could be made and to identify best practice.
Employers need to talk about ageing more within the workplace and all the opportunities and challenges this brings to each of our lives and to the business. Breaking the taboo to talk about ageing in the workplace is key to enable people to bring their whole selves to work. There is also a need for businesses to talk to each other and to share best practice to enable all employers, regardless of size or sector, to prioritise and support age inclusive workforces.
Talking is great, but employers also need to follow through with actions. Changing and creating policies that support agile and flexible working, creating a culture that values skills and experiences from older workers and enables them to share these within the business and training hiring managers to remove age bias from the recruitment process are just a few actions that employers can and should be taking.
Ageing is normal, and therefore it should be normal for employers to consider and plan for this in their workforce and with their customers. Once we have listened, talked, and acted to change our practices as employers this needs to be imbedded into the culture of the business and incorporated into all future thinking – it should become the new normal way of working.
To find out more about the conference and to join the conversation, check out our hashtag on twitter #AgeInclusiveWorkforce