Small businesses should not underestimate the value of more mature employees; that is the advice of researchers from the Newcastle University Institute of Ageing during Small Business Advice Week.

As SMEs increasingly struggle to recruit a workforce with the more specialised skill set often required in a small enterprise, the Institute says that potential employers shouldn't overlook the knowledge and experience that an older workforce can bring.

Dr Matt Flynn, Senior researcher at the Institute for Ageing and Director of Research into the Older Workforce at Newcastle University, commented:

"There is still a tendency for small business owners to feel they should look to younger people when recruiting, especially with the way that current government policy is shaped. However, SMEs should give greater consideration to not only retaining their older workers, but recruiting from the supply of 700,000 older people who are out of work but want to find a job. A mature workforce provides a greater wealth of experience, often over multiple sectors, and these individuals frequently have much better interpersonal and communication skills. This should be seen as a huge asset in such employees."

People 2 (PD)Despite the fact that the majority of older employees in the UK are employed by SMEs, managers continue to worry about having sufficient resource to manage such a workforce. As such, they are often reluctant to recruit further older employees and don't always fully embrace the value of those already within their business. Of this Dr Flynn says:

"Managers in SMEs have the unique position of a much closer interaction with all their employees, in comparison to those in larger organisations. This position presents the ideal opportunity to work with an older employee in a mutually beneficial way.

"Flexible working requests are a regular part of the management of most businesses. An ageing population means that an increasing number of older people have caring responsibilities not only for grandchildren, but also for parents and other elderly relatives. Far from seeing "sandwich carers" as a problem, employers should use the close relationship they have with their workforce to accommodate requests for flexibility, enabling older workers to continue in employment and juggle their caring roles. In doing so, a small business can continue to benefit from their skills, knowledge and experience, which that can then be shared with younger colleagues."

In addition to creating a more flexible working environment, businesses should recognise that lifelong learning and training opportunities for older workers are just as important as offering apprenticeships and placements to younger school and university leavers.

Dr Flynn continues: "Older people, rather than shy away from formal training, often relish the opportunity to develop new skills, or even formalise training and skills they have learnt 'on the job.' Many large businesses like Barclaycards are finding clever ways to use training and apprenticeships to entice skilled older people to make a career move in their directions. Small businesses would be wise to get in on the act as well."

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