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Older workers at risk of being ‘thrown on the scrap heap’ as outdated skills deem them a write off in the workplace

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In face of growing skills gaps in the UK – post pandemic and Brexit – City & Guilds Group (@CityGuildsGroup) is urging businesses to stop the silver talent drain from the workforce by investing in upskilling valuable older workers – or risk further productivity shortfalls during the recovery period.

With many older workers made redundant by the pandemic, new findings from research by City & Guilds Group reveal that adults aged 55 and over are the at the highest risk of being left behind when it comes to formal workplace training – making their skillsets increasingly less relevant and individuals less employable.

The research found that people aged 55+ are the least likely to have undertaken formal workplace training in the last five years, with only half (53%) having done so. This compares to 67% of 35–54-year-olds and 83% of 18–34-year-olds. 

Highlighting the scale of lack of investment in training in older workers, well over a third (38%) of respondents aged 55+ report having last received formal workplace training over 10 years ago, or never at all. This is worrying when we consider that less than half (47%) of older workers think they have all of the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, and only 20% plan to retire soon – meaning that the majority will be left with outdated skillsets.

The figures also suggest that training is not being geared towards the needs or aspirations of older workers. Working-age adults aged 55+ are most likely to say that the last workplace training they received was not useful for their current job day to day (20%), while half don’t feel the training they received would help them to live a more fulfilled life (47%).

Meanwhile, with City & Guilds Group’s recent Skills Index report revealing that only just over half (54%) of businesses state that their organisation can recruit the skilled individuals it needs, the new data also demonstrates a huge opportunity to harness the valuable experience of older workers to fill skills gaps in the post pandemic and Brexit world. However, currently just one in seven (14%) businesses state they would consider turning to recruiting or retraining older workers or retirees to tackle skills shortages.

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Kirstie Donnelly MBE, CEO of City & Guilds Group, commented: 

“We are all living longer, healthier lives than previous generations, meaning more people will also need to work until they are at least 70 to ensure they have enough saved to retire. But with the pace of change in businesses only exacerbated by the pandemic – and the data painting a clear picture of chronic under-investment in training older, more experienced workers – we risk consigning a generation of valuable workers to the scrapheap, just when many industries are crying out for more workers post Brexit and as we unlock society after the pandemic.

“And, with many older workers impacted by the pandemic, we also need to create opportunities for them to re-enter the workplace, for instance through flexible work or training that fits around their responsibilities. Ultimately, if we don’t keep on investing in our workforce throughout their lives, recognising their value right through to retirement, older workers will not to be able to contribute effectively to their employers and the economy in years to come. And this is something we simply can’t afford..”

Kevin Rowan, Head of Organising Services and Learning at the Trade Union Congress (TUC) said

“We fully agree with City & Guilds’ findings regarding older workers being left behind in the workplace. In our own research considering supporting older workers, released earlier this year, the TUC identified that older workers had been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. We called for more support to help workers who need or choose to work later in life to identify and get access to training or resources they need, and better rights to enable them to work flexibly.

“Access to learning opportunities are an important feature of good quality work and fulfilling lives, including maintaining good mental health. Older workers being disadvantaged or prevented from learning is both economically and socially damaging, short-sighted and counterproductive. We need genuine lifelong learning for all.”

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