Businesses have noticed a huge shift in work trends over the last few years, with the Great Resignation impacting employers ability to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce, argues Jo Roberts.

During the pandemic, swathes of workers left their jobs, taking time off or changing sectors. Indeed many took the decision to quit their working lives sooner than would have been expected.

Statistics show that working-age adults between 50 and 64 experienced the highest increase in economic inactivity since the pandemic compared with any other age group. Around half a million have left the workforce without returning since March 2022 and, since then, economic inactivity among that sector of the population has increased from 37,000 to 318,000.

The rise of economic inactivity is one of the biggest challenges facing the economy as the country grapples with the twin threats of rampant inflation and weaker economic growth. The government therefore recently announced plans to encourage older workers to return to employment in order to help drive economic recovery, with a programme of returnships. This could have huge benefits for businesses if executed well, bringing experienced employees into the workplace, but leaders need to think carefully about how best to support their return and make sure their skillset is fit for the current digital environment.

What is the role of tech in the workplace?

Todays workplace is more reliant than ever before on technology. Businesses cannot escape the importance of harnessing new technology to drive efficiencies and remain competitive. It is quite possible, in fact, that these new ways of working could have been partly behind the exodus of workers, with people feeling that they were lacking the digital abilities required today. Indeed many companies struggle with the adoption of the latest technology because their teams lack the digital skills required to do so, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to find people with the knowledge that they need because of this digital skills gap that exists.

One solution to address this issue for businesses is to nurture and develop the technical abilities of those they already employ or who are looking to re-enter the job market. Workers need to feel supported to achieve their goals and progress their careers in their chosen profession, and should be encouraged to feel excited to return to a workplace where they can develop new skills allowing them to work alongside and make use of the latest advances in technology. If employees are given the opportunity to gain the knowledge and tools to use advanced and ever-changing technologies to support them in the workplace, their careers can be future-proofed and self-esteem boosted.


If upskilling could be the answer to retaining, or regaining, age-diverse talent, what are these skills that businesses need to be looking to train their teams up in? Two areas of technology that have seen the most significant development in recent years, and that are going to be fundamental to business success going forwards, are data and AI. Businesses will want their employees to have the analytical skills required to effectively turn the increasing amount of information available to them into profit.This requires an ability to understand the data that you need, and the expertise to critically and rigorously evaluate it, as well as understanding how to leverage it to build business cases and inform decisions.

We are seeing advances in AI and automation that may seem hard to comprehend for many workers who started their careers before the new digital era. The use of it will become increasingly common and ever more sophisticated, starting to really transform the way we do business – we are seeing this with ChatGPT for example. With this comes a requirement for businesses that want to be at the forefront of innovation to make sure that their team feels comfortable about AI and understand potential AI applications in their business. When able to be used effectively, it can support and empower a modern team.

What are the benefits of ups killing?

People can be guilty of thinking of upskilling as simply learning a new trade. But it is not just that – it is about giving people the tools, insights and mentality they need to develop a huge range of skills applicable to different circumstances, and to allow themselves to remain relevant as we see further technological advances. We arent talking about training legions of fully-fledged data scientists, for example, but are saying that we need to give everybody basic data skills so that they can apply this knowledge to their own professional circumstances. These individuals may go on to learn coding, marketing or IT skills that combine to make them a highly skilled worker in their field.

A program of upskilling for returning, or more mature workers can bring huge benefits. Firstly to the individual – whose skills become future-proofed, and who have an increased opportunity to take on more senior jobs rather than settling for lower-paid roles that do not reflect their potential. But also to the business more widely. It takes businesses time to develop new staff into the culture and working of a sector, and returners will already have many of the necessary skills as well as previous experience that can cost a business their time when developing new recruits. They have familiarity with workplace experience, and can bring with them an abundance of soft skills into the business around leadership, multi-tasking, organisation and time management.

The benefits of returnships

Ultimately, returnships can be a win-win for both businesses as well as employees, but it will not work without the commitment of businesses to properly support those looking to re-enter work. Government can of course provide the funding and crucially, promote the scheme to the wider public, but it needs to be a public-private partnership, and involve SMEs as well as larger corporations.

Businesses are ideally placed both to outline the skills that are needed at any given time and also provide the bulk of the training. When executed well, it can mean that businesses will no longer face the same struggle to find suitable talent for todays digital age, and returning workers will be able to future-proof their careers.  


Jo Roberts is the Director of Content Strategy at Circus Street.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.