Older Workers to be the New Faces of British Retail

A new report released by Skillsmart Retail today confirms that changing demographics could transform the British retail industry. It may soon move from being a first job to a career in the twilight years.

Announcements that the compulsory retirement age of 65 will be phased out in 2011, confirm predictions that people in the UK will be working longer. Skillsmart Retail’s The Age of Retail report outlines what effect the growing number of older people could have on UK retailers.

Over the next ten years, the number of people over 50 is predicted to increase by 22%, whilst the number of young people (16-24) is set to drop by 9%. For an industry that currently draws over 30% of its workforce from the 16 – 24 age group, double the all-industry average, this will have a significant impact.

But retail’s traditional reliance on employing younger staff hasn’t always been helpful; it has been linked to the industry’s high staff turnover rate. Young people tend to move on from jobs more frequently than their older counterparts (although this has reduced, as job insecurity increased with the downturn, from around 30% to below 20%), a considerable drain on resources.

However, recruiting older staff might be more of a challenge for some businesses, notably young fashion retailers, where having young, glamorous staff is a key part of brand identity. But with the number of young people set to decrease, competition for good recruits will rise and retailers will have to ensure their businesses are the most attractive.

Some retailers are already responding to the changing situation by actively seeking to employ older people.

Liz Bell, HR Director at B&Q said:

"At B&Q we removed the statutory retirement age in the mid-1990s. Our workforce now spans a huge age range with our eldest worker, Syd Prior, aged 95 and approximately a quarter of the workforce is aged over 50. Their skills and experience are invaluable in passing on knowledge and expertise to customers and our younger team members."

Anne Seaman, Chief Executive of Skillsmart Retail said:

“The make-up of the UK population is changing. We’re all living longer and the Age of Retail report highlights what the challenges are for retailers and how they can respond. Now is the time to start thinking about strategies to deal with the changing demographics – ten years seems a long way off but as with age itself, it creeps up on all of us sooner than we would wish.”

To see a copy of the full report please go to The Age of Retail and be sure to read up on Age Discrimination Legislation.

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