Nearly half (45 per cent) of UK owner-managers are concerned about skills shortages and many claim younger recruits are often just not up to the job. Over a third of SMEs report a lack of work readiness amongst graduates and 31 per cent cite poor literacy and numeracy amongst school leavers as a key issue facing their business.
However, many entrepreneurs are now looking to the previously untapped potential of older workers to plug the gap, with two thirds (66 per cent) of SME leaders agreeing that the employment of workers aged 50 plus is a good solution to skills shortages. And more than a fifth (22 per cent) of entrepreneurial businesses actually favour the hiring of older workers over college leavers as a solution to staffing problems.
The Tenon Forum research reveals that three in ten SMEs have a strong representation of employees aged over 50, with many businesses utilising the experience of older workers as coaches and mentors for younger employees (20 per cent) or in the capacity of consultants following retirement (12 per cent).
Businesses in the East of England have the largest pool of more experienced employees, with four in ten claiming to have a strong representation of older workers in their workforce in contrast to 22 per cent of London-based SMEs. The manufacturing industry in particular is flying the flag for older workers, with over a third (34 per cent) of those facing staffing issues in this sector saying their business favours the hire of older workers over their younger colleagues.
Andy Raynor, CEO of Tenon, commented:
“Staffing issues are a constant concern for entrepreneurs, with huge amounts of time and money going into recruiting and retaining employees who have the right skills and talents. Changes to pensions legislation, combined with the recent age discrimination legislation, are encouraging people to put their retirement on hold and continue working in some capacity, either as full-time or part-time employees, or as consultants. Older members of staff can bring huge benefits to an organisation and we expect to see more and more entrepreneurial businesses taking a flexible approach to recruitment and utilising this valuable skills base.”
Entrepreneur and Tenon Forum think tank member, Khalid Aziz, Chairman of the Aziz Corporation, added:
"We are becoming increasingly frustrated with a lack of work-readiness amongst graduates, many of whom do not possess basic skills, such as mental arithmetic. Those under the age of 40 have never experienced high unemployment and this is contributing to a tendency for younger employees to take work for granted or, worse, treat it as an extension of their social lives. This failure to take work seriously is not an issue amongst more mature employees."
UK entrepreneurs are also adopting a range of other strategies to deal with gaps in the workforce. One in five (21 per cent) of those with staffing problems have increased training budgets to tackle skills shortfalls, 13 per cent outsource their HR function to external consultants whilst 12 per cent are relying on the skills of foreign workers.