Wherever you look in the HR arena businesses are looking to find ways to make the most of their workforces. As we’re all aware, a number of sectors including healthcare, engineering, IT and many others are suffering from, often crippling, skills shortages that could potentially affect future prosperity and growth. 

And with research from Dr Dirk Van Dierondonck at the Rotterdam School of Management suggesting that there will be one retiree for every person employed by 2050 and that the European labour market could shrink by as much as 15% in that time, the problem is growing in significance.

Various solutions have been suggested and some sectors have begun to look internationally for new talent while others have looked to promote alternative routes into the working world. However, one potential, and glaring, goldmine that hasn’t yet been properly tapped into is the elder end of the workforce. So with this in mind, why haven’t firms taken advantage of the skills of older talent?

The most obvious solution would be to simply make more of the legions of unemployed senior professionals in the market. Research suggests that if the 1.2m unemployed over 50s who are looking for a job were supported into work, almost £50bn could be added to the economy. And a study by Peter Capelli, professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that, “if you look at data on older individuals’ job performance and abilities, they get mind-blowingly better with age,” highlighting the value that this area of the workforce can offer.

Some firms have been reluctant to hire senior talent because they don’t see it as a long term investment, however professionals of all ages are staying in their roles for less and less time, so this isn’t necessarily a relevant concern.  While taking on more senior professionals could be beneficial, the real solution is less obvious.

One factor that’s rarely considered properly is how to fully capitalise on the skills of employees who are approaching retirement. These individuals will have built up extensive knowledge over their long careers and it’s extremely wasteful to see this all disappear without taking advantage.

These are the people who can keep things ticking over and hold businesses together and their knowledge and wisdom is likely to be invaluable to the successful running of the company. But when they retire, this knowledge is lost. As a result, it’s imperative that firms tap into the attributes and invisible skill sets of these employees while they still can.

No one is expecting senior or recently retired talent to work a ten-hour day or to commit to upskilling younger professionals in their free time, but more must be done. Businesses have to look to engage with older workers to ensure their skills aren’t lost once they retire. This could take the form of part time work, structured programmes or even just consulting the company on a monthly basis. 

KMPG is just one firm that has recognised the value of this end of the workforce and has reported that the experience of senior employees helps to add credibility in the eyes of its customers. Consulting outfit TalentREADY is another to grasp the value of the elder workforce.

CEO, Michelle Benjamin believes that the firm benefits by cutting training costs while the quality of work produced by the professionals speaks for itself. Whatever strategy firms adopt, it’s a challenge that can’t be ignored and it’s imperative that these skills aren’t allowed to leave the business when the employee does.

The Government plans to roll out its ‘older workers champion scheme’ next month and this is certainly a step in the right direction. More businesses should sit up and take note of the value of the senior end of the workforce, if they don’t they’re likely to spend fortunes looking for the answer to the talent crisis, when one solution is staring them right in the face.