Roger Jeary, TUC Representative on Workage Policy and Dissemination Panel, introduces Workage, one of a number workplace interventions that aim to make the most of mature workers and ensure their skills are maintained for generations to come.
The workplace at present is full of uncertainties and insecurity. But one thing is certain. The workforce is getting older and workers, by choice or necessity, are working longer. So what are employers doing about this major demographic shift?
Employers frequently bemoan the shortage of relevant skills and as the Government sets out its stall to create a high-skilled economy, the CBI has pointed to firms facing a skills emergency now, threatening to starve economic growth.
It was highlighted in the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2015 that high-growth, high-value sectors with the most potential are under the most pressure. Manufacturing is one of these sectors.
Two in three businesses expect to need more staff with higher level skills in the years ahead, but more than half of those surveyed (55%) fear that they will not be able to find them, according to the CBI’s poll.
Yet current experience and skills are being allowed to leave industry through early retirement or redundancy. To meet the immediate needs something has to be done and the answer could lie with older workers.
Much has been written and said about the demographic time-bomb facing the labour force across Europe, and social and economic measures are being applied.
However, to maximise the benefit of the experience and skills which older workers possess, more can be done in the workplace itself.
The TUC, which represents the majority of the UK’s organised workers, is currently engaged in European funded research project “Workage”.
The three-year project is being led by Nottingham Trent University in partnership with Workplace Innovation Limited (part of UKWON) and aims to inform policy guidelines about the engagement and retention of older workers through the application of workplace interventions.
The TUC commissioned research last year – Representing an ageing workforce: Challenges and opportunities for trade unions – which looked at the challenges and opportunities for trade unions in representing an ageing workforce.
It produced seven key recommendations and, in particular, recognised the diversity within the older workforce – those that delay retirement because they want to; others that are compelled to work longer for economic reasons; and others who want to work but are prevented from doing so by health reasons.
Employers and trade unions working together need to provide support in many different ways to meet these diverse needs and workplace interventions offer a solution to some of them.
Workage is identifying and piloting non-age related workplace interventions that enhance the engagement of workers aged over 50 years and delay the intention to retire, as well as developing evidence-based workplace practices.
Specifically, the interventions will focus on workplace innovation practices that enable people at all levels of an organisation to use and develop their skills to the fullest possible extent during their working lives.
Workage is concerned with four areas of workplace practice – work organisation; structures and work systems; learning and reflection; and worker engagement.
To help deliver and evaluate these interventions Workage has appointed three change facilitators from the two organisations being used to implement this project – Stoke-on Trent City Council and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland.
Throughout the project, participation of the workforce and their trade unions has been entirely voluntary and the output of the interventions will be monitored and evaluated during and at the end of the project.
Although only currently half way through the project, benefits are already being identified in workplaces where the project is taking place. In Stoke, the mobile cleaning team have seen their ideas taken up and front line workers now participate in monthly meetings with management.
In the Maternity Unit in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, the project has resulted in multi disciplinary team meetings now taking place monthly improving participation and removing duplication. In both cases the introduction of greater participation of workers at all levels is resulting in improved morale and a sense of well-being.
The project team will be measuring the impact of the interventions and will return to undertake another survey of all staff after 12 months to evaluate the work and examine what if any impact the interventions might have on older workers and retirement decisions.
While the examples given are both in the public sector, the policy advice which may be derived from the outcomes of the pilot schemes could be equally valuable to manufacturing and other commercial operations in the private sector.
Part of the Workage Project’s objectives is to disseminate to the widest possible audience the outcomes of the research and practices undertaken during the three year period. It is designed to develop workplace policy/practice solutions that can inform government policy on older workers and the workplace.
It will also generate rigorous evidence for practical solutions with strong links to policy thinking, as well as supporting the scaling up of these innovations across Europe through the delivery of transferable lessons with a resource toolkit in pursuit of active and healthy ageing through prolonging working lives in a decent and fair manner.