AI anxiety triggers mass exodus of older workers

Research shows the rapid rollout of new technologies across UK workplaces is contributing to an already disastrous decline in labour supply.

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UK business owners who have eagerly embraced AI technology are being warned to consider the impact on talent, as research reveals older workers are retreating from the workforce due to a self-perceived lack of modern skills.

The findings, from tech company Multiverse, estimate that 5.3m workers over the age of 50 are considering retiring early, due to fears they are missing the in-demand jobs and skills today’s employers are looking for. These include AI and machine learning roles.

In total, 64% of workers nearing retirement age have considered an early or phased retirement. Most concerningly, 38% consider it likely that they will have to retire early.

Dwindling UK workforce sparks business worries

Coming in the same week as the government’s announcement that it will limit the hiring of overseas talent, the Multiverse report is a blow to SMEs already being dragged down by skilled labour shortages and a widening digital talent gap.

In April, figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that the UK became the worst-performing country in the G7 for workforce participation, post-COVID.

The percentage of working-age adults either in work or job hunting was 78.6% in the final three months of last year, down from 79.5% in the same period at the end of 2019. In this context, the last thing the workforce needs is millions of early retirees handing in their notice.

In part, the declining working population has been triggered by a staff mental health crisis, which has inflated the UK unemployment rate. Earlier this year, a record number of employees were revealed to be out of work due to being on long-term sick leave.

Fighting labour shortages an upskill battle

The Multiverse research also asked those who are planning to leave the workforce in the next twelve months what would make them stay in their current job.

Some 37% of respondents said that they would be convinced to remain in the role if their employer offered them the opportunity to go on training courses and develop new skills.

The approach would have the greatest impact on those aged between 50 and 54. Half of respondents in this age group said they would consider remaining in their job with improved workplace training.

Much has been said about younger workers, such as Gen Z, and the changes they are bringing to the modern workplace. However, less commonly discussed are the challenges faced by older workers to adapt to this new working environment.

Now, the Multiverse report suggests that employers can no longer afford to ignore their plight. Businesses that do not boost their efforts to support older workers risk losing access to a valuable pool of skilled and experienced talent.

Calls for government support

In mid-November, the government unveiled a £200m digital skills training package to address the urgent need to upskill workers and boost the UK labour supply.

These efforts have generated some success. Over 40,000 people reportedly started a skills bootcamp in the last financial year through similar schemes. Still, the figure represents under 0.1% of the millions of over 50s that Multiverse says plan to leave the workforce.

Responding to the findings, Gary Eimerman, Chief Learning Officer at Multiverse, called on the government to invest more into upskilling programmes to stop experienced talent from exiting the workforce en masse.

“Our research clearly shows that we can retain more over 50s in the workforce, and even tempt many back in from retirement – but only if employers and the government commit to a serious plan to invest in their ongoing learning,” concludes Eimerman.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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