For many of the current job seekers in the UK and Ireland it’s been ten long years since their last job interview or career change*. That may surprise you but that’s what data from our latest survey of the 459 people taking part in our outplacement services tells us**. This information is particularly helpful for HR Managers dealing with specific talent shortages and skills gaps, which are difficult to fill with candidates without either the relevant qualifications or experience.

Our data is in line with global trends in demographic shifts which mean that less young people are entering the workplace, and older people are living and working longer. This is great news for the “older” and middle-aged generations who want to continue to be valued in the workplace and who have many years of productive contribution ahead.

However many of the older career changers I work with suffer from the same concerns: a lack of confidence in the transferability of their skills and the benefit of their experience and overcoming barriers they face from hiring organisations. HR Managers like you are in a prime position to take advantage of the experienced , people currently job hunting, but in order to do this most effectively you may need to check out your own or your organisation’s ingrained prejudices .

So what are the most common barriers to recruiting or retaining older workers and how can you overcome them? Do your own perceptions help or hinder? Here are some of the common prejudices and assumptions, and suggested ways to tackle them:

Skill sets are obsolete

In fact, in the UK and Ireland,there is a skill gap created by experienced and skilled workers retiring with skills younger generations are not learning. Equally an older worker has a great deal of experience and commitment – this combined with a desire to learn new skills is very powerful. At Right Management we call this the ‘teachable fit’, they may not have the exact skills required for a role but given the right training they could fill a skill gap and be worth the L&D*** investment. In fact a CEO I was working with recently wholeheartedly agreed that the right attitude and approach are crucial – other skills can be learned. .

Health starts to deteriorate so sickness absence will be higher
In general terms the health and fitness of the population is improving, resulting in people living longer and leading active lives. Statistics will confirm that older workers in fact have less sick days and tend to be more reliable.

Attitudes are more cynical

It can be very difficult for people with a lot of experience to let others learn from mistakes and see things with a fresh perspective. However as long as you are open to listening to their contribution, and can see the potential for them to contribute positively in meetings, conversations and in written documents this shouldn’t be a problem. That wealth of experience and maturity of approach can be of particular use in plenty of situations and they can be great sounding boards or mentors for other employees. In my experience many of the older people I work with are the most positive!.

Slow to adapt to new technology

Our data shows that 88.9 per cent of job seekers surveyed use LinkedIn as a job-hunting tool. This is interesting when you bear in mind that the largest demographic of the people we surveyed at 64.8 per cent was 46 – 68 year olds. It shows this group of job seekers are embracing technology. In my experience coaching people this age they tend to back the figures up. Though people may think they aren’t willing to adapt to new skills, particularly technology, in fact once they see the benefits many are absolute converts.

No longer interested in training and career development

For a start this impression may not be trueas many older people are still keen to learn and develop.. Equally if it is true it could be a real advantage. There are some roles that HR Managers constantly fill as many people view them as stop-gaps for the next stage in their career. A person who is secure in their experience and wants job security will solve this problem by happily staying in the same role for much longer than others. It’s well documented that active, capable, older adults are more reliable, more dedicated and more loyal – hiring an older worker could in that sense be one of the best long-term people investments you make.

Unwilling to take a step down

A lot of older workers apply for roles at pension age that will reduce the amount of time and energy they need to put in at work. This isn’t to say they won’t work hard, more that their priorities have shifted. As a result HR Managers simply need to ask outright why a job seeker is going for a role that seems to be below their qualifications and experience.

So if I’ve done my job I’ve shown you how older workers, the ones out there currently job hunting, could be just what you’re looking for. And if you’re converted remember that you may need to do the same job in convincing others in your organisation that they’re the right hire. It’s imperative to the success of UK plc that HR Managers adapt their thinking when looking at available talent pools so we can get as many people as possible back into work. After all it typically isn’t the safe hires that produce the star performers in organisations. It’s important to mitigate the risk, and your processes will help you do that but remember that a grateful employee will often be out to achieve for your organisation and not just themselves.

The Author

Willma Tucker is principal consultant at strategic career consultancy Right Management, the workforce expert arm of ManpowerGroup.

*218 of the 459 surveyed hadn’t changed job in 10+ years
**Individuals surveyed between 24th July and 19th August 2012
***Learning & Development