Adapt recruitment practices to address skills shortages

Part 3 of Technology, Diversity and an Ageing workforce – a cocktail of workplace change.


Age-related exclusion does exist. 

According to the Human Rights Commission’s Equal Opportunities Commissioner, Jackie Blue, “40% of workers have experienced age-related discrimination over the last five years, commonly manifested in the form of withholding interesting tasks or promotion and bullying.” (Another brick in the wall: Why no one over 50 can land a job – NZHerald, Nov 2016)


Organisations have a formative role to play in supporting age diversity. CIPD, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development in the UK, published a research report in February 2015, titled – Managing an age-diverse workforce: What employers need to know. The report headlines could easily be summarising the situation in New Zealand:


Even though older people are staying on at work rather than retiring, there are three times as many unemployed older workers as there are young people not in education, employment or training – 2.9 million (DWP 2014) compared with 954,000 (ONS 2014). This is a vast pool of untapped potential talent that employers are missing out on when it comes to recruitment. While the retention of older workers is gaining traction, unemployed older people struggle to find jobs.


Previous research shows (CIPD 2014) that more than ever employers value older workers and are positive about letting people work for longer rather than losing them unnecessarily as retirees.  However, while provisions for employee health and well-being are seemingly strong, more practical steps could be taken to support the extension of working life, with three in ten employers currently not providing any support in this area.


As the economy grows and the average age of the population increases, employers will also need to develop proactive approaches to recruitment to make sure they are age-diverse and develop a balanced employee age profile. For the first time, there will be more than five generations working together in organisations, enriching the diversity of experiences, perspectives, personal values and ideas and creating challenges and opportunities which employers will need to be smart to manage.

The research highlighted the key benefits and challenges of an age-diverse workplace.


Key benefits of age diversity: Knowledge-sharing and different perspectives

Older age groups bring knowledge, experience and expertise that’s shared practically ‘on-the-job’ and younger colleagues are often seen to know new practices gained from recent training.  This provides space for true collaboration across age groups, with the recognition that all employees stand to gain.


Different generations are felt to have varied approaches to work, which bring about new perspectives.  Younger groups are sometimes associated with ‘quick’ reactions and thought processes, while older generations are associated with more measured reactions, utilising their experience.  It was felt that there is a role for both approaches in the workplace.


Key challenges of age diversity: Lack of shared values and interests

Employees across the age groups are not always looking for the same things from their work.  For example, while younger employees may treat their job as a stepping stone to other things, for others it is a career and livelihood. This is seen as more pronounced in specific industries such as retail and customer services, where it is felt that there can be large numbers of younger workers who are not treating the job in the same way as older workers.  This is linked back to age and the life stage that employees are at and can cause divisions and conflict within the workforce.


While benefits and challenges exist there are also compromise positions that can be taken.

Leigh Lafever-Ayer is the HR director, UK and Ireland, for Enterprise Rent-A-Car.  In a case study within the research report, she explains that Enterprise’s approach to age diversity is about supporting employees through different life stages by offering flexible working options: whether that be parenthood or a part-time retirement.


Leigh’s top 5 tips for supporting an age-diverse workforce:

  • Organisations need to understand their generational diversity and that is all about having the right data.  Measure the age profile of your workforce and look at your age profile on an annual basis to see what is changing.

  • Help managers to overcome the challenges of age-diverse teams through inclusive leadership training.

  • Explore whether you can increase the diversity of your recruitment channels.

  • Succession planning – for many organisations, succession planning is critical to keeping and retaining corporate ‘know-how’ and is often ignored.

  • Engage with each generation on how their team can work together best: one generation might find it useful to network and share knowledge with colleagues in a social media group, while others may prefer face-to-face interaction.  Help them strike a balance.


“Older workers constitute the single largest pool of untapped potential in Britain. With the challenges that lie ahead, it is crucial we build on their wealth of skills, experience and collective wisdom.” - Peter Mayhew-Smith, March 2017


All workplaces are facing multiple changes and two high profile ones are technology and diversity. Probably the most significant aspect of diversity is age-related because it affects more people than any other.  While not usually as prominent as sexual orientation, gender and race, it is nonetheless a huge force for change. Age diversity is going to become more prevalent in years to come and therefore learning how to manage it will become more critical.


One thing is sure, changing demographics can’t be ignored especially when there’s decreasing numbers of young people entering the workforce, increasing numbers of people over the age of 45, and a skills shortage.  Kiwi businesses must adapt their current recruitment practices to address this impending skills gap within their organisations.


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