By Arnab Banerjee, principal consultant at Cornerstone OnDemand

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses today is the availability of key skills. Every industry is experiencing disruption at various levels due to the fast acceleration of technology and many organisations just can’t keep up. This often leads to highly valued skills becoming obsolete in no time. The most common solution that organisations usually resort to is recruit new blood, restricting their search to the younger generation, more specifically Generation Z because Gen Z, as they are also called, are more familiar with new bleeding-edge technology and come across more motivated and therefore seem the obvious choice to fill the skills gap and solving the problem. But new recruits are only part of the solution and many organisations are missing a trick with older workers and prospects in the talent pipeline.

An ageing workforce

According to the Office for National Statistics, those aged 50-64 make up over half the annual increase in the UK workforce, with a further quarter coming from those in the over-65s age category. And that number is set to rise as one in six people globally will be over-65 by 2050. People are living longer which means that they are also working longer.

Whilst the younger generation can bring fresh ideas and a high level of digital skills and innovative thinking to the workplace, we shouldn’t be overlooking our older workers – the generation X and Ys and even the baby boomers - they are just as valuable. Employees in their 40s still have at least 20 years of their career left, which is a long time when you think about how far the workplace has come in just half that time. So, the challenge for businesses is to realise the opportunity from an aging workforce and finding effective ways to help the senior generation adopt a continuous learning culture.

The value of older employees

Often, older workers will choose to work longer in the same industry or in the same company and will have developed a wealth of knowledge through experience. This is tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) - the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalising it.

An employee who has been working for the company for a long time, for example, will be very familiar with company ecosystem, processes, and procedures and have a great understanding of its culture and values. They also might have extensive knowledge of the company’s products or services and will be able to provide valuable insights that are useful for future developments.

Older employees also might have fewer commitments to manage than the younger workforce – they’re less likely to have to care for young children or have relatively less busy social lives, for example – therefore there’s often a higher focus on work.

In an age where job-hopping is commonplace amongst workers, you have to think that there’s a reason why certain employees have stayed at a company or in the same industry for so long – they like their job and believe in the company and industry that they work in and feel they have a lot to contribute.

Personalised learning to suit everyone

Whilst Millennials and Gen Z are fresh out of university and clearly demonstrate a willingness to learn, your older employees, if not as demonstrative, are just as motivated to grow and develop. So it’s important that these employees are encouraged and enabled to adopt a continuous learning approach.

However, to enable employees, both young and old, to shift into this mindset, organisations must encourage learning by making it part of their culture. That means tailoring learning to each individual, putting them in charge of their own learning and career development. Aviva, for example, adopts a “midlife MOT” scheme which reviews the career, wellbeing and finances of employees over the age of 45, helping them to envisage their future with the company and making them feel empowered in the workplace. The scheme also benefits Aviva because it enables them to retain key skills and expertise in the workforce.

Businesses can help to support a learning transformation by providing the right learning tools and enabling easy access to relevant content For example, a Gen Z employee that wants to learn more about the general office etiquette might choose a nanolearning offering, whilst an older employee who needs to learn how to use the company’s new CRM system might learn better from an experienced employee or through a webinar. Annual surveys can help to map out different learning preferences across your workforce and AI can help creating a tailored curriculum for employees based on their skills and preferred way of consuming content. Providing a choice of different learning formats, techniques and content will enable your employees to learn smartly. It’s about finding the best balance for the individual while advancing what’s best for your business.

Older employees shouldn’t be overlooked by their employers. As the demographic landscape shifts, markets change and technology continues to disrupt, businesses can no longer just afford to keep looking for fresh blood outside of their current workforce hoping to fill skills gap. By realising the potential of your older workers and supporting them in preparing for the future, your business will not only be maximising its resources but also retaining some of the most valuable employees.