Plugging the skills gap: how to replace the baby boomers

03 December 2015 -


Free university education and a stable job market helped the baby boomers of the ‘50s and ‘60s to take the job market by storm. But now, as they approach retirement, businesses are facing a skills gap that they are struggling to fill…

Jermaine Haughton

As baby boomers begin to leave the workforce into retirement, new research suggests younger workers do not have the skills required to fill their shoes.

A survey from recruitment firm Robert Half UK found that three quarters of UK employers are expecting to suffer a shortage of skills and expertise at their organisation when the baby boomer generation retires within the next five years.

In fact, as many as 74% of company finance directors questioned believe the negative impact could be felt over the next two years. Only 10% of respondents said that they did not foresee a potential skills gap.

Sometimes referred to as the Generation Jones, the baby boomer generation comprises those born in the 1950s and 1960s, when the birth rate spiked. With access to free university education, cheaper property prices, unionised workforces and a relatively stable jobs markets, many baby boomers offered their employers fantastic experience and expertise when it came to conducting business.

From communicating effectively with clients face-to-face to thorough research skills, older workers often offer employers traditional qualities and knowledge competently integrated into today’s digital working landscape.

But with many of these workers set to leave employment over the next five years, businesses will need to implement robust training programmes for millennial workers, specifically developing talented staff in the skillsets and expertise they require most to grow and develop their organisation.

The survey found that companies are already waking up to this need to offer more tailored training programmes, with 45% of respondents reporting an increase in training and development programmes, 32% enhancing benefit programmes to retain baby boomers and 27% of firms hiring mid-level talent to develop a skills pipeline.

Offering a phased retirement programme for older workers is also vital to limiting the impact of their future departure by giving young staff more time to learn the jobs, the report says.

Therefore, employers are boosting their mentoring programmes and knowledge transfer processes (25%), employing senior-level talent to replace retiring employees (22%) and offering flexible and/or part-time work arrangements to attract and retain baby boomers (16%).

Phil Sheridan, UK managing director of Robert Half, said: “Employers are facing a profound shift as baby boomers look to exit the workforce, compounding the existing skills gap. With employers challenged in finding the skills they need to grow their businesses, establishing a succession plan with a robust attraction and retention strategy will be critical to succeed in today’s economy.

“In some cases, offering project or interim contracts to employees nearing retirement will open up positions for aspiring managers to move up the career ladder, while still operating under the guidance of a mentor. However, it is important to recognise that younger generation X and Y employees will expect different social contracts with their employers and that this should form the second phase of any baby boomer transition planning.”

Apprenticeships can help train the next generation of managers

Analysis by CMI for the Management 2020 report showed that the scale of retirement expected in the next five years is set to create demand for as many as one million new managers across the UK labour market.

To fill this skills gap the report recommended increased uptake of apprenticeships, something that has been growing in popularity as the cost of a university education – and the accompanying student debt – continues to rise.

The Degree Apprenticeship is aimed at helping meet the requirements of a growing UK economy needing more than one million new managers by 2020. Under the scheme, managers who complete the apprenticeship will earn a degree in management and business and become a Chartered Manager.

The four-year courses bring together a world-class business education, work-based learning and professional development through to Chartered Manager status, tailored to the needs of employers and employees. The Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship will provide work-based learning for both non-graduate existing managers as well as school leavers.

Nestle head of talent acquisition Tom Banham said the first students from the Degree Apprenticeship programme to join the company have added not just professionalism but energy and vibrancy to an ageing workforce.

“At the moment Nestle is relying on an ageing workforce; we don’t have talented individuals coming through and driving our organisation forward for the future,” he said. “An example of that is 15% of our skilled manufacturing team in the next 15 years is coming up for retirement, so a lot of knowledge and management skills will be lost.

“That’s why we built the Nestle academy in 2012, which is purely focussed on driving entry level talent for our organisation and giving them different development opportunities. This programme is a fantastic opportunity for individuals joining our organisation: they get a Degree Apprenticeship from Sheffield Hallam University, they rotate through four commercial areas and at the end of the three-year programme they get a permanent opportunity at Nestle, a degree and they become part of the Chartered Management Institute.”

Employers from across the country are being urged to get involved in Degree Apprenticeships so that many thousands of apprentices can complete the new apprenticeships by the end of the decade, helping meet the requirements of a growing UK economy needing more than one million new managers by 2020.

Designed for all sizes of organisation, the apprenticeship is set to be adopted across the Civil Service, and the Birmingham City Council being among the first in the public sector to commit.

For more information, including details of the business schools ready to deliver the programme, visit:

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