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Employers grapple with ageing workforces

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Employers are faced with a loss of vital skills and experience as the baby-boomer generation, born in the aftermath of the second world war, approaches the end of its working life.

Retailing offers work patterns that appeal to older workers but sectors such as engineering and manufacturing have less flexibility, while smaller companies have fewer opportunities to accommodate older workers in less demanding jobs.

Syd Prior, the 96-year-old part-time assistant at DIY chain B&Q who was featured in last week’s Executive Appointments cover feature, is proof that age need not be a bar to employment. His working career spans 81 years and he was full-time at the company’s New Malden store in south-west London until the age of 93.

Mr Prior is one of 1.4m people above the current UK state pension age of 65 (for men – the age for women is gradually rising from 60 to 65) still at work while the number of people of (official) working age is falling.

Managing an ageing workforce is therefore a growing and significant challenge for business. UK government proposals to abolish the 65 “default retirement age” have been welcomed by age campaigners but are seen as a cause of concern by many employers.

Yet answers must be found. Apart from the demographic imperative, action on employing older workers is underpinned by UK legislation that adds age to the list of factors – notably sex and race – that cannot be used to discriminate against individuals. The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations of 2006 make it illegal to discriminate against workers on the grounds of age in recruitment, promotion and training.

“We saw a lot of employers start to think about ageing issues when regulations came in four years ago,” says Rachel Krys, campaign director at the Employers Forum on Age, an independent network of employers that promotes the idea of an age-diverse workforce. “It put it on the radar for employers who had not thought about it as a discrimination issue.” Despite this growing awareness there is still a long way to go.

Source : Charles Batchelor - FT.com

24 November 2010
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