A policy event in London recently drew attention to a growing challenge faced by business leaders as the UK workforce continues to age. Now, 9.4 million people in employment in the UK are over the age of 50, equivalent to over 30 per cent of the workforce.
The conference, The Ageing Workforce in the UK, explored what steps need to be taken in order to adapt to this demographic shift. The Open University is advising that, with employees staying in work longer, business leaders need to ensure that workers have the right access to education and the skills to remain competitive and productive at all stages of their careers.
The Government’s 2016 Working Futures report reveals that the total number of jobs in the UK is expected to rise by 1.8 million between 2014 and 2024. Yet the working age population (16-64) is expected to increase by half this amount, as fewer young people enter the workforce. It is clear that members of the existing workforce need to be equipped with the relevant skills needed for a changing work environment.
Steve Hill, Director of External Engagement at The Open University, comments: “The increasing age of Europe’s population and workforce has become a major policy focus, both in the UK and at a European level, over the past few years. Just last week we saw the Universities and Science Minister talk of the importance of life-long learning, and businesses need to recognise the value in investing in their current workforce. It’s a mistake to think we can resolve skills shortages simply through new employees entering the workforce, as the numbers just don’t match up.
“Lifelong learning, in particular, has the potential to play a key role in helping current workers remain productive in the labour market for longer, by ensuring that their skills and knowledge are relevant and aligned with employer demand. At the OU, 88 per cent of our students say that their career benefited from the skills and knowledge they gain on a course.”
Steve continues: “Businesses can benefit tremendously from the knowledge and experience of their existing employees. Upskilling these individuals ensures that corporate memory remains within the company, whilst also keeping the business relevant and employees engaged. This is particularly true in areas where skill requirements are changing quickly, such as digital technologies and cyber security. Continuous work-based learning allows employers to continue to benefit from their employees’ input into the business, whilst employees benefit from a boost to their skills.”