The cost of living crisis is drawing skilled people back into the workforce

Employers will need to do more to attract ‘unretirees’ as they choose to return, argues Kirstie Donnelly

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With inflation in the UK reaching 9.4 per cent in July, the cost of living crisis is impacting people across the country, and retirees are no exception. Last year, spurred by the pandemic, more than a million people planned to retire early according to research from Legal & General. 

However, with many pension funds failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living, some of these early retirees are making the decision to rejoin the workforce. For employers, this presents both opportunities and challenges; older workers bring valuable experience and skills, particularly in sectors struggling with talent shortages such as construction, with the CITB anticipating 216,800 new workers being needed to meet demand by 2025, and 49 per cent of engineering firms experiencing a lack of skills available in the external labour market. 

But the City & Guilds Skills Index found that 38 per cent of people aged 55+ have not undertaken any form of workplace training within the last five years, meaning they may lack newer digital skills. In order to make the most of the abilities and experience of these older workers, employers will need to embrace a new approach to workplace training, investing in opportunities that are geared towards the needs and aspirations of older workers to equip them with the skills they need while also granting them the flexibility to return to paid work as soon as possible. This may mean a significant shift in training and development strategies for many businesses, with just 14 per cent reporting that they planned to recruit or retrain older workers to fill skills gaps when surveyed in 2021. 

Attracting workers from this demographic will mean addressing their professional goals. For some older workers, additional income will be a priority, while others will want to be challenged, so offering both training and the potential to progress is critical to ensure they remain engaged, with managers potentially needing additional training so that they are equipped to lead teams that include people of different ages and with a range of backgrounds. 

Organisations will also need to consider the more personal needs of older workers to successfully attract people from this talent pool. For many people in this age group flexible working will be a priority – some will have caring responsibilities for grandchildren while many others may simply not wish to make a return to commuting. Leveraging technology to facilitate hybrid working will provide older workers with the freedom to meet their personal commitments while still adding value to employers via their skills and experience. Similarly, offering part-time roles, potentially positions focused on transferring their skills to younger team members, will provide older workers with the flexibility they need. 

There is ample evidence to demonstrate that age-diverse teams have a greater impact, demonstrating greater productivity, making better decisions and having higher rates of retention than teams that lack this quality. Employers should not squander the opportunity to benefit from the value that older workers have to offer, particularly when doing so will only stand them in better stead to support other older workers as the next generation ages.

While the reasons older workers are rejoining the workforce are less than optimal, the ‘great unretirement’ nevertheless presents a valuable opportunity for businesses not only to address short-term skills shortages, but to support an intergenerational transfer of knowledge and expertise that has the potential to support a new generation of workers. 

Kirstie Donnelly is CEO of City & Guilds