The pressing issue of the UK’s ageing workforce will come into focus tomorrow at an event designed to look at ways of addressing the widening imbalance in the labour force.
According to the Government’s 2016 Working Futures report, 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.
The event comes at a time when fears are growing that the equilibrium between supply and demand in the labour market is out of sync – with the result that the skills gap becomes irreversible and chronic. The conference, ‘The Ageing Workforce in the UK’, has been organised by the Westminster Employment Forum, and will ‘explore what steps need to be taken in order to adapt to this demographic shift’. The event takes place tomorrow at Glaziers Hall, London.
‘The numbers don’t match up’
Steve Hill, Director of External Engagement at The Open University, said 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.”
Among those in attendance at the event will be Helen Dimmock, Head of Fuller Working Lives Strategy and Later Life Engagement, Department for Work and Pensions and Tim Sharp, Policy Officer, Economic and Social Affairs Department, TUC. They will be joined by representatives from a range of organisations, including Age UK, B&Q, Business Disability Forum, Recruitment & Employment Confederation and the Barclays Apprenticeship Programme.
Hill is one of many calling for a reform to the routes open to young people to enter the workforce. Broadening out the scope of apprenticeships – and boosting their profile and prestige among young people, their parents and employers – is a central part of that.
Lifelong learning vital to effort
“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,” Hill says. “At the OU, 88 per cent of our students say that their career benefited from the skills and knowledge they gain on a course.”
Hill 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.”
Last week a report from the CIPD highlighted some of the challenges facing BIS as it tries to encourage businesses to adopt a lifelong learning approach, in part through the introduction of the apprentice levy next year, a move that has led to widespread concern and confusion among business, particularly those in the SME space.