Hamilton, N. (2009), "EHRC/TAEN conference: age diversity in the downturn: Business benefits of creative approaches to age management, London, UK, 20 March 2009", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 8 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/shr.2009.37208eac.003Download as .RIS
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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
EHRC/TAEN conference: age diversity in the downturn: Business benefits of creative approaches to age management, London, UK, 20 March 2009
Article Type: Resources From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 8, Issue 5
Neil HamiltonNeil Hamilton is a conference reporter at TAEN
Older workers’ skills and experiences can help lift employers out of the economic recession, experts told an international conference in London on age diversity in the downturn. Flexible working practices involving older employees have helped private and public sector organizations across the world improve performance and emerge from troubled times, according to speakers at the conference, organized by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and TAEN – the Age and Employment Network.
1 Learning from down under
Kathy Kelly of the Local Government Association of Queensland, Australia, said that when she began looking at the employability of older manual operators, most of them indicated they wanted to carry on working although they felt their work was not properly recognized. “Surprisingly, it was not always about money but working gave people a reason to get out of bed in the morning and feel valued.”
Working with other agencies, Kelly’s department set up a formal training program, offering older workers short diploma courses. Eight hundred and fifty employees gained their diplomas in just six days’ study by concentrating on their skills gaps. Kelly commented: “For us the result has been astonishing with many older workers now enrolling for a university degree. Five years ago we started with a skills and labor shortage and now we’ve proved that if you invest in older workers and increase their employability, disciplines emerge that we had not thought about.”
2 Dispelling the myths
Melanie Flogdell, Centrica’s head of Personnel Policy, said age was a key part of its diversity strategy. “The business case for age diversity is that it is the right thing to do and in a downturn we need the corporate knowledge and experience that retaining older workers brings.”
Centrica had taken age out of the equation in its recruitment policy. “We’ve also invested heavily in training managers and those involved in recruitment and selection to make sure any reference to age does not appear in any of our adverts.”
Business was about investing in training employees and managers about the benefits of age diversity “and dispelling some of those myths around older and younger workers through our age awareness learning package.”
3 Age is no excuse
The downturn is no excuse for making job cuts on grounds of age, warned Dr Nicola Brewer, chief executive of EHRC. Although by 2024 one third of workers would be over 50, older employees still faced incorrect and stereotyped assumptions about their attitudes and abilities, she said.
“We cannot afford for the talent, skills and experience of older workers to be lost. If this happens, business will be less well-placed to capitalize on the recovery when it comes.” Options to cutting jobs could involve more part-time work, flexi-hours or phased retirement options.
4 Get smart: help the over-50s
Age diversity, suggested TAEN chief executive Chris Ball, was a vital element in managing the recession. He said: “We have to be clever and use our wits.” The last recession had seen a dramatic drop in the employment approaching pension age “and that is something we have still not recovered from.”
Addressing employers, Ball said: “There has been talk on the cost of the changes and the possibility that during the recession organizations will find it less easy to approach making age management adaptations or interventions. It won’t be the priority – but now is not the time to stop innovating.”