Learning & Development

Ageism at work widening the skills gap, report finds

Organisational ageism towards the over 50s could be damaging the economy, the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) has warned.

A survey of more than 1,400 UK managers and workers found that many managers wrongly assume staff over 50 lack the desire to develop and progress to more senior roles, despite having the knowledge and experience to fill the UK’s leadership skills gap.

Managers rated team members aged over 50 far lower than younger age groups for their keenness to learn, develop and progress, scoring them at 46 per cent for these attributes.

They rated younger Generation X colleagues – those born between 1965 and 1976 – at 67 per cent for the same attributes and millennial colleagues, born between 1977 and 1997, at 79 per cent.

However, the over 50s rated their own keenness to develop at 94 per cent – higher than the youngest millennial age group surveyed, at 87 per cent.

According to the CIPD report, Managing a healthy ageing Workforce: a national business imperative, an estimated 13.5 million jobs will be created over the next ten years, during which only seven million young people will enter the labour force, highlighting the part older workers have to play in contributing to the economy.

Kate Cooper, head of applied research and policy at ILM, said: “At a time when the relatively weak performance of UK management is affecting both national and organisational competitiveness, there is a real opportunity for organisations to recognise the benefits of an age-diverse workforce and realise the untapped leadership talent of the over 50s by investing in their ongoing training and development.”

The ILM survey found 61 per cent of managers believe workers over the age of 50 have low (20 per cent) or very low (41 per cent) potential to progress. This is despite the over 50s scoring higher than younger workers for occupation specific knowledge and skills (85 per cent) and understanding of customers (78 per cent).

Rachael Saunders, director of age at work at Business in the Community, said there were some practical actions HR practitioners could take to help avoid age discrimination such as unconscious bias training.

“Use of role models will help address misconceptions too,” she said.

“By demonstrating to younger managers that they have nothing to fear and everything to gain from an intergenerational workforce where some of their direct reports are older than them.”

Commenting on the ILM findings, Caroline Abrahams, charity director for Age UK, said: “Knowledge, talent and ambition don’t disappear because people reach a certain age, so it is very disappointing that older workers face so many ageist barriers in the workplace.

“Employers simply can’t afford to disregard their older employees – not only is it discriminatory, but it makes no economic sense to ignore the wealth of skills and experience that they have built up over their careers,” she added.

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