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Small firms beat staff crisis – using an army of older workers

Recruits: Simon Cooper, 62, and, right, apprentice chef Claire Neale, 58

Thousands of businesses are struggling to hire new employees as vacancies hit a near-record high of nearly 1.5 million. But a growing number of companies are adapting to attract older workers and reap the rewards.

According to official figures released last week, as many as 150,000 people over the age of 50 joined the labor market last year after quitting during the pandemic. But there are still hundreds of thousands of experienced older workers who have yet to be enticed back.

Kerry McGowan of The HR Specialists has worked in recruitment for decades and believes employers need to do more to understand what older workers value if they are to entice them back into the workplace.

Flexibility is key — and often more important than pay, says McGowan. “People in their 50s and 60s are often called upon for childcare and may also be caring for elderly parents,” she says. “When recruiting, companies often fail to offer a flexible role, which means they lose out on such experience.”

Flexible working is the single most important measure an employer can offer to support and attract an older workforce, according to a recent survey by insurer Canada Life. Part-time opportunities and anti-age discrimination policies are also popular. McGowan adds that employers need to watch out for unconscious bias when hiring to make sure older workers aren’t unfairly put off or excluded. For example, she mentions application forms that irrelevantly emphasize age or dates of schooling and qualifications.

Recruits: Simon Cooper, 62, and, right, apprentice chef Claire Neale, 58

Recruits: Simon Cooper, 62, and, right, apprentice chef Claire Neale, 58

“People are still being told they’re ‘too experienced’ for a role,” McGowan says. ‘What does that mean? Likewise, asking about a candidate’s previous salary may exclude them from a position where money may be less important than having a better work-life balance.

Claire Neale, 58, has recently started a new role as an apprentice kitchen clerk at Fuller’s pub, the Cromwell Arms in Romsey, Hampshire. She had worked as a householder for five years, but wanted a change.

“I was the oldest apprentice of about 30 years old – they called me mum Claire! But everyone was really supportive,” she says. “My new role is much more rewarding and it was great to have another challenge and to inspire my own children. Next year I will train in pastry-confectionery. I don’t think I want to stop learn.

Dawn Browne, Director of People and Talent at Fuller’s, said: “We are actively seeking older team members and are delighted to have them join us, both in full-time roles and in learning programs. We believe you are never too old to learn new skills, and the older generation is often in the best position to motivate, support and inspire younger colleagues.

A growing number of companies are also seeing the value of older workers. “Companies such as Wickes, B&Q and Tesco have long recognized the benefit of having people with knowledge and experience, but now it’s also about communication skills,” adds McGowan. “Older people tend to be more comfortable talking to customers and can show younger people how to interact in the same way.”

Rest Less, a fast-growing digital community for over 50s, offers inclusive job postings on its website. More than 52,000 adverts are currently online, from employers including Lloyds, Sky, Metro Bank and the NHS.

Sophie Gilmore is managing director of energy training provider HybridTec, which has much of the older staff. “In addition to having greater experience, older people are resilient, have empathy and are critical thinkers. Young people can learn from it,” she says. “Young workers also find the stories of life in the past fascinating! »

Oliver Rudd, 19, an apprentice at HybridTec, has colleagues in their 60s and 70s. He says, “Learning and working alongside older peers has had a positive impact on me. They share their knowledge and experience of the industry. They also take pride in their work and their level of professionalism is something I aspire to.

Former financial services consultant Clara Challoner Walker set up Cozy Cottage Soap in Malton, North Yorkshire, in 2017 with her husband Philip. As she approached her 60s, Clara was keen for her business, which makes handmade soaps and personal care products, to reach people who might have found it more difficult to find work because of their age.

OF its 16 permanent employees, more than half are in their 50s or 60s, and Clara says this has benefited her staff and her business.

“One of the benefits of employing older people is that they have richer life experience, which they are happy to share with younger people,” she says. “They tend to be more willing to help others, develop team spirit, engage in their roles and mentor younger employees.”

She adds that staff enjoy working past retirement age to supplement their pensions as the cost of living rises. It also means that they stay active and interact with young people every day.

Simon Cooper, 62, has worked at Cozy Cottage Soap for three years and says he enjoys learning new skills and working with other people. “I’ve been a freelance illustrator for years and it’s been a pretty lonely existence,” he says. “It’s nice to have a steady income rather than the ups and downs of being a freelancer.”

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