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The UK is facing a skills shortage, with almost a quarter of all vacancies considered skills-shortage vacancies, according to a recent Government Employer Skills Survey.[1] Meanwhile, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit means a shrinking talent pool might shrink further in the near future.

Vacancies are becoming increasingly difficult to fill, with many organisations struggling to find applicants with the appropriate skills, qualifications or experience. To tackle this problem, companies should look at building a more diverse workforce. This would ensure they fulfil their obligations under the Equality Act 2010, but also guarantee a wealth of skills and experience remains in the workplace.

There are a range of options for companies looking to recruit a more diverse workforce. They could shift their focus towards recruiting students on placement, women returning to the workplace after maternity leave or a career break, ex-offenders, former military personnel, or even consider where automation can supplement human workers.

However, there are two pools of workers they should not overlook – disabled employees and older workers. Both are groups of workers that could add significant value to the workplace.

Debunking the myth about disabled employees

Often regarded as too expensive to employ because of the adjustments that need to be made to the workplace, less than half of people with disabilities are currently employed compared to 81% of those without. The Government has recognised this and in late 2017 set the target of introducing one million more disabled people into the workplace by 2027.[2] Despite an improving employment rate, there is still plenty of work to be done.

Reasonable adjustments to the working environment to accommodate disabled people can be made at little or no cost to the employer. Allowing for flexible working, changes to the dress code or allowing someone to sit instead of stand (or vice versa), are all concrete yet simple solutions. According to The Disability Rights Commission, the average cost of adjustments is just £75.[3]

Not only can the addition of disabled people to the UK workforce close the skills gap, but a report by DePaul University in the US, studying the costs and benefits of workers with disabilities, found them to have low absence rates, long tenures and to be ‘loyal, reliable and hardworking’.[4]

Older workers should not be disregarded

Similarly, it is imperative for employers to take advantage of the UK’s ageing population and work on ways to retain older workers, especially considering it costs an average of £30,000 to replace an employee.[5]

According to our latest research, two thirds of workers aged 55 and above have been with their employer for 10 years or more, with the majority of those planning to work beyond 65 intending to stay in the same job. Interestingly, three in ten plan to work beyond the age of 65 because they enjoy their job, while one in six employees will continue to work in order to receive valuable employee benefits.[6]

If properly taken care of, with the right protection products to meet their needs, older workers could use their many years of experience to the company’s benefit and help younger staff by coaching and mentoring them.

A third of UK employees acknowledge the importance of senior workers mentoring younger colleagues, and three in ten believe a mix of older and younger workers is desirable as it creates a wider range of skills in the workforce. Thus, employers should seriously consider offering them a wide range of support services, from early intervention to employee assistance programmes and second medical opinion services, which will support older workers throughout later life in the workplace.

By tapping into this underused resource, the overall benefit for the economy is clear to see. Research shows that if half a million keen and able older workers who are currently out of work returned to employment, the UK’s GDP would increase by £25 billion per year.[7]

Therefore, employers should not miss the chance to tap into the value of these underused talent pools. With Brexit on our doorstep and an ageing workforce, it has become urgent for employers to challenge misconceptions and revise their approach to talent acquisition and retention. If we are to reduce the skills gaps and improve productivity, tackling the disability employment gap and age discrimination would represent a good start.

[5] Oxford Economics, The Cost of Brain Drain
[6] Canada Life Ageing Workforce research, Q2 2019
[7] RSPH, That Age Old Question/#3a26f8a93501

Paul Avis, Marketing Director, Canada Life Group Insurance

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