ILM: Ageism at work is widening the leadership skills gap

Over 50s are seen to lack leadership potential, despite strong skills and experience

Workers over 50 are routinely being overlooked for promotion despite possessing the essential knowledge and experience needed to fill the UK’s leadership skills gap, according to a new report released by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).

Untapped talent: Can over 50s bridge the leadership skills gap, which has drawn from a survey of more than 1400 UK managers, reveals that many organisations wrongly assume that staff over 50 lack the desire to develop and progress into more senior leadership roles.

ILM found that managers rated team members aged 50 plus far lower than younger age groups for their keenness to learn, develop and progress, scoring them at 46 per cent for these attributes, compared to 67 per cent for Generation X (born 1965–1976), and 79 per cent for their younger millennial colleagues (born 1977–1997).

In fact, the over 50s rated their own keenness to develop at 94 per cent, higher than the youngest millennial age group surveyed, who trailed in last place with 87 per cent.

Kate Cooper, head of applied research and policy at ILM, said: “There is an inequality in Britain’s workforce that is contributing to a large and worrying leadership skills gap. We see that over-50s are typically not being given equal opportunity to apply their much-needed occupational skills, knowledge and customer focus within a leadership role. This is because older workers are wrongly assumed to lack the desire to learn and progress into more senior positions, when in fact we found they are just as keen, if not keener, than their younger colleagues to grow and develop.” 

The study also found that older workers’ confidence and career targets are lower than their younger counterparts. Despite a keen desire to advance, fewer than half (46 per cent) of over 50s managers expected to progress into a more senior position within the next three years. This was compared to 76 per cent of millennial managers and 62 per cent for Generation X.

Department for Work and Pensions figures[i] show that an estimated 13.5 million jobs will be created over the next 10 years, over which time only seven million young people will enter the labour force. This is leaving the UK with a skills gap – especially within leadership and management positions

“At a time when the relatively weak performance of UK management is affecting both national and organisational competitiveness, there is a real opportunity for organisations to recognise the benefits of an age diverse workforce and realise the untapped leadership talent of the over 50s by investing in their ongoing training and development,” Cooper concluded.

[i] Department for Work and Pensions (2014).“Fuller Working Lives: A Framework for Action”

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