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Envisage: Changing the way that Britain transitions into later life

April 4, 2017

Lord Wei recently hosted an event which brought together over 40 HR Directors from some of the UK’s leading organisations whom collectively represented over one million employees in the UK. They were there to join in the conversation of how Britain’s employers can help change the way people transition into later life.

Starting with the research report ‘Next Steps: Life transitions and retirement the 21st century’, Lord Wei highlighted the impending challenges facing the ageing population; living longer, seeking to live out fulfilled, active and meaningful lives, possible pressure on state provision, decline of skills in the workplace, real personal struggles facing individuals as they transition into later life and individuals often ill-informed and equipped to the meet challenges ahead.

Lord Wei reflected on how the National Citizens Service has successfully scaled up and offered support to young people making the transition from education into employment and the need at the other end of the age spectrum to prepare those at the end of their working life.   When asked, individuals feel woefully ill informed – either scared of the impending financial pressures or conversely liberated in the expectation of a golden sunset; in both cases “sleep walking” towards the edge of the cliff  A metaphor used by several speakers.

Rachael Saunders, Age at Work Director at Business in the Community (BITC), and the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, gave an overview of the numbers involved and the challenges. One fifth of the UK population is over 65, a number which has grown by over half in the last 40 years and is set to increase, such that by 2030 half of all adults will be over 50. However, employers and perhaps the wider society in general, is not prepared for this societal shift. 47% of people age 50 plus and unemployed have been out of work for 12 months or more; the inference being that skills and experience are being neglected and ‘yes’ it is just possible that conscious or unconscious bias is creeping into the way recruitment is being undertaken.

The call for employers is to respond now, to take a fresh and close look at how to approach retention, (re)training and recruitment. Without a radical re-think, by 2022 we will see a 7.5 million skills gap in the UK economy, with vacancies predicted to be 12.5 million.  With older people leaving the workforce and just 7 million young people entering the job market, there is a predicted further 2 million new vacancies.

Ian Harnett, Executive Director Global Purchasing and HR for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), was the next speaker.  With a UK workforce of 30% currently over 50, JLR rightly pride themselves in how they have invested into their workforce to motivate and maintain productivity. Through age friendly policies and adherence to the organisational values, they help people to move on in a way that benefits not only JLR but the local community by a strong emphasis on volunteering, ‘giving something back’, serving practically in local communities.

Ian was followed by David Birtwistle, one of JLR’s HR director’s who spoke about practical steps they had taken to support  staff and, in particular, the pioneering work JLR  piloted with the Shaftesbury Partnership and subsequently the Envisage Initiative.  Delivering weekend workshops that not only addressed the nuts and bolts associated with planning for later life, (pensions, wills etc.) but also the deeply human challenges  around topics such as personal relationships and keeping active  for good health, both physical and mental. David highlighted three aspects of the Envisage workshops:

  • the benefit of having the employee’s partner or a good friend accompanying them on the workshop and the opportunity to share experiences and learning
  • the richness of the experience where attendees were drawn from a range of employers
  • the importance of getting staff to attend a workshop well in advance of retirement, encouraging those age 55 plus to attend to start the planning and realisation process early to avoid that ‘cliff edge’.

Peter Holt, CEO of Envisage, was the concluding speaker. Peter spoke from the heart, expressing his driving passion to see people become more engaged, motivated and confident, as they enter later life through a programme designed to reinvigorate lives and relationships, bringing benefits to both business and society.

Peter highlighted how as a society we no longer see ‘retirement’ as synonymous with the image of ‘pipe and slippers’ and slowing down, and that for the baby boomer generation now in this transition,  that view is far removed from their everyday reality. In fact, many who can afford to, actually do not want to retire; they crave mental stimulation and a sense of value and worth that work affords them, and increasingly are volunteering and contributing in whatever way they can.

Peter outlined the Envisage model, ‘Taking Stock’ and ‘Taking Action’.

Taking Stock’ through offering organisations a consultancy service to help them better understand their older workforce and look at ways of retaining and improving their contribution and in so doing helping the employer and individuals make clear plans that are mutually understood. ‘Taking Stock’ by offering employees and their partner the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop to see what ‘later life’ may look like for them and to start to formulate a plan; a road map that will guide them, without too many bumps along the road.

‘Taking Action’ – Peter re-emphasised the opportunity for older workers mentoring their younger colleagues giving them a sense of value whilst unlocking the social and emotional skills of the younger workers so they can also flourish in the work place. This places emphasis on the benefits of volunteering to help generate a sense of purpose and self-esteem that will continue beyond  the workplace.

A reoccurring theme throughout from all contributors was that of unlocking potential, investing in and placing value in older workers. This was coupled with a stark warning that both individuals and organisations maybe unwittingly walking towards a cliff edge, which for some may be a point of no return, so positive and urgent action is needed  to ensure that Britain as a whole transitions well into later life.

More details of the Envisage social enterprise can be found here.

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