As a boss, what’s your most pressing problem? If you run a small business, a lack of skilled staff is likely to be near the top of the list. The inability to hire employees with the right experience is a persistent issue for many SMEs and hinders them in the day-to-day, as well as their growth ambitions.
- More than one in three – 37 per cent – of SMEs say poor skills are limiting their business growth, according to recent research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
- Businesses with a turnover between £500,000 and £1 million are the most likely to say a paucity of skilled staff is arresting their growth, a report by venture capital firm Albion Ventures
But this week is Adult Learners’ Week (ALW) and small company bosses may be inspired by this celebration of lifelong learning to consider older recruits to fill the knowledge gaps in their organisation. The ALW event is aimed at individuals who are keen to learn new skills and perhaps take a different career path. But small businesses could also look to this cohort of job seekers to build up their workforce and create valuable, experienced, tailor-made talent. After all, a third of the workforce will be over 50 by 2020, according to the Government. That’s a lot of potential to choose from.
Is age a virtue for SMEs?
Part of the solution to small firms’ need for better skills lies in the business community working closely with colleges and schools to produce young people who are ‘work ready’, as the FSB points out. A greater focus on apprenticeships also helps, as we’ve discussed on this blog before. But it’s not all about youth – there’s also a great opportunity for enterprises in cultivating older job seekers. This is a growing part of the working population, as more people opt to work for longer due to diminished pensions and changes to the law deferring retirement age.
There are good, solid reasons to hire older workers. Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that having an age diverse workforce has the following benefits for SMEs:
- More than half of bosses who hire older staff say they contribute significantly to knowledge-sharing between the generations.
- One in three says mature employees are good at problem solving.
- More than 20 per cent think older staff are particularly effective at providing customer service.
Hiring mature staff
In order to get the right person for the job, you need to have an accurate job description, outlining a list of required and preferred skills for the role. About 15 per cent of older job seekers have a first or higher degree, while 65 per cent have at least one formal qualification, research into the UK job market by Health Scotland has found. But some older people may have acquired their skills from on-the-job work rather than formal training, which makes it hard for them to demonstrate what they can do.
If you’re hiring someone who’s older, give them a formal induction period to assess where the holes in their knowledge lie. Then, you can devise a bespoke development programme with them. Offer flexibility in the way any education is offered to counter-act some older people’s reluctance to take up learning again at an advanced age. If you can make them feel comfortable and less self-conscious, they’re more likely to get the most from the experience.
Training older talent
Of course, your fundamental need as a business owner is to get the skills into the company that are currently lacking. The CIPD found that, again, age can be an advantage here.
- Almost half of SMEs think training older staff provides a good return on investment, as those higher up the age scale are less likely to leave the business.
So, any skills gained by senior members of staff tend to stay in the organisation. And clichéd suggestions that mature workers struggle to grasp new tasks seems to be disproved in reality – almost half of small business owners disagreed with the suggestion older employees are slow to learn new things.
Studies indicate training is as effective for older workers as their younger peers, but senior staff are less likely to seek out training opportunities or think skills development isn’t open to them. This puts the responsibility on the employer to encourage employees of all ages to take up chances to improve their skills, as well as making sure line managers promote training to all. Another advantage of polishing mature employees’ skills is that it often takes less time, typically being built on the greater experience they already have. And older workers can go on to be great mentors to younger staff, too.
When thinking about training don’t forget apprenticeships aren’t just for bright, young things. About one in ten apprentices is aged between 45 and 59, and the number of apprentices aged over 60 has tripled since 2010. So, look at the logistics of taking on an older apprentice – the Government has further information about the support it offers employers on its website.
None of us can stop the clock and Britain has to come to terms with the fact it has an ageing workforce. But, as said, this needn’t be a bad thing and SMEs, in particular, could benefit hugely if they tap in to all the skills and experience available in the older cohort of job recruits. They may not have all the qualities a business needs at the outset, but, chances are, they can learn them quickly and very cost effectively. So, have a little respect for your elders this Adult Learners’ Week and think about creating a more age diverse workplace. It could be just the thing to address your skills problems and boost your business growth.