As the mining industry gears up for another boom, dealing with chronic shortages in skilled personnel looms as a potential deal breaker. This is forcing companies to take a long hard look at the people they already have on their teams. How many of these people, although getting older and perhaps approaching retirement age, can instead be retained? And possibly upskilled to fill another role.
Once upon a time there was a distinct perception that older people could not learn new technologies as readily as younger people. This was seen as a barrier to employing them for roles where they would be required to use technology. However, studies have revealed that older people, if allowed to learn new technologies at their own speed, can and do become just as competent in these technologies as younger people. Furthermore, older people are equally as innovative and adaptable as younger people. Therefore, none of these issues should be considered a barrier to employing or retraining older people for roles that require technical knowledge or innovative approaches.
A Changing Mindset Towards Hiring Older People
Whilst being open to employing older people may require a change in mindset for those tasked with the responsibility of hiring new employees, it's a policy that should pay dividends in the long run. Older employees are generally
- more experienced,
- less likely to be looking to move on to another job anytime soon and
- a known quantity.
The Challenges Of An Older Workforce
Despite the many advantages of retaining or hiring an older workforce, there are challenges involved. Chief amongst these is recognising the risks older people face compared to young people. Particularly age-related physical changes. By evaluating their working environment and putting in place strategic management strategies to reduce these risks, companies can significantly reduce the liability older employees pose to their business. A case in point may be installing lifts and/or access ramps so older employees don't have to climb stairs.
Job descriptions for positions that are filled by older workers should be carefully assessed in order to understand the specific requirements of the position and how these may impact on these employees. What tasks and responsibilities are required of the incumbent, do they pose any occupational health and safety risks to older people and if so, how can these risks be mitigated or preferably removed altogether. This assessment is particularly important if there are physical tasks involved in the role. It may also be that job descriptions will need to be modified to accommodate the special requirements of older workers if the company wants to take advantage of the experience and stability these employees offer.
Providing wellness and safety programs are another area where companies can improve the productivity and safety of older employees. Many mining companies already have strategies in place to try and encourage healthier lifestyles amongst their employees. This may include making training programs available around issues like nutrition, workplace ergonomics and workplace safety. They may also offer counselling services, particularly if they employ people who work a fly in, fly out roster as depression and loneliness are becoming an increasing issue amongst these employees.
Other important considerations when it comes to older employees are developing health risk assessments and vision examinations. Older employees are going to be more prone to developing issues like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. They are also far more likely to be on medications that may have side effects like dizziness. Therefore, awareness of the individual health requirements of these employees will help employers more effectively manage working environments and job responsibilities to minimise risks and improve productivity.
Measuring The Effectiveness Of Implemented Programs
Companies also should be measuring the impact of implemented programs designed to improve the lot of older employees. It's one thing to have the programs but whether they're actually effective is another thing entirely. Are the implemented health and safety programs improving the health and safety of these employees? Have the steps taken to reduce OH & S issues reduced those issues and made the workplace safer for older employees? In the event that an older employee is injured, are the policies and procedures around their return to work successfully returning them to work?
If your company is addressing all these issues as well as any others that we haven't mentioned, and is also mindful of government strategies designed to keep experienced personnel in the workforce for longer, you should be rewarded with the benefits of being able to successfully retain one of your most valuable assets. That is – your experienced, mature-age employees. Treasure them because in today's current mining climate they are true gems.