The Talent Shortage: why better integration of the generations is the answer

August 14, 2023

Nigel Girling

Head of Professional Qualifications
Man with hand held out in stop motion

Organizations across the world are finding it increasingly hard to attract – and retain – talent. There is a global talent shortage that the World Economic Forum estimates could mean 85 million jobs are unfilled by 2030.

A quick online search will also highlight the many challenges associated with integrating Gen Z into a culture, environment and approach that may well have been developed by Boomers, or at least by Gen X. This challenge is exacerbated for many by hybrid working and the increasing pressure to meet expectations for ESG, Triple-Bottom-Line and good Mental Health.

One obvious contribution to resolving the talent shortage is to find ways that older people can continue to contribute beyond retirement – and many organizations have recognized this. But many have not. Why?

Many older employees have a huge wealth of experience and skills, especially people skills, and a strong work ethic. While some organizations and their HR functions have often assumed that younger workers will have more energy and be tech-savvy, this hasn’t always proved to be the case in practice.

Many younger employees have had little opportunity to operate in a team environment, nor often a great deal of experience in interacting at work with people from all ages, functions, mindsets, disciplines and perspectives. Their relationship with ‘tech’ may have largely been confined to social media, gaming and the use of apps as shortcuts to achieve outcomes that have little relevance to the way technology is used in the workplace. These applications are things that many an older employee may find to be second nature.

Some organizations – and some leaders – may think that trying to mix generations is going to be challenging due to their differences. Others may feel that older workers lack the energy and dynamism that might be exhibited by Gen Z and millennials. But is that really accurate?

Many HR functions are seeing that the typical 60-year-old of today is a very different proposition to the 60-year-old of even a decade ago. Older people appear to be getting younger… at least in outlook, attitudes and desire to continue to play an active role in working life. Hybrid working and different types of working time commitment have made it possible and attractive to older people to continue working beyond their retirement age.

Many who would not wish to work 9-5 or do a traditional 37-hour week might be very keen to work flexibly. Cost of living rises may make it necessary for some to supplement their pension, while others simply want the stimulus of working with others and doing something useful. It has often been the case recently that older people who have had a successful career and operated at a senior level are more than willing to do a lower-level job with less pressure and stress after retirement. They haven’t forgotten all of their skills and can be a huge asset to their younger colleagues, as mentors, coaches or simply as an experienced pair of ears and eyes.

Some major employers have already gone some way to solving their own talent shortage by recognizing the opportunity represented by older workers: Boots the Chemist have attracted a significant proportion of their recruits from the over 50s in recent years. DIY retailer B & Q has a long history of attracting older employees with decades of practical experience with DIY projects – more than 30% of their workforce of nearly 27,000 are over 50 – and they are now actively recruiting over 60s too.

In an age when talent is so hard to get and to keep, why would any organization want to lose important skills by letting older workers just walk away? Why wouldn’t a firm want to bring in the huge experience and capabilities offered by the recently retired?

This is the age of… age.

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