Many organisations today are heavily focused on securing a range of technical skills, an approach that some argue favours younger generations or the ‘digital natives’ who can more intuitively navigate their way around new technologies.
While younger people may – in general – hold an advantage in technical knowledge and ability, an over-emphasis on those capabilities risks alienating a large portion of the workforce who will play an increasingly important role in future economic success.
‘Soft skills’ such as communication and teamwork, for example, alongside problem-solving, emotional judgement, professional ethics and life experience – are increasingly attracting the value they deserve.
In fact, a paper by Deloitte Access Economics forecasted that soft skill intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030, compared to half that level back in 2000. In addition, the number of jobs in soft-skill intensive occupations is expected to grow at 2.5 times the rate of jobs in other occupations.
It’s important to remember that despite the seemingly unstoppable advance of automation in the workplace –something which will impact younger and more mature workers alike – some skills can’t easily be engineered. Whether it’s the power of good social judgment, critical thinking, or the ability to ‘just know’ what to do in a crisis, maturity and experience remain valuable commodities, even in an era of digital transformation.
Indeed, HR industry analyst Josh Bersin suggests that some long-held workplace definitions need to be reconsidered: “Hard Skills are soft – they change all the time, are constantly being obsoleted, and are relatively easy to learn. And Soft Skills are hard – they are difficult to build, critical, and take extreme effort to obtain.” For this reason, he calls them ‘Power skills’. The skills of the future are not technical, he argues, they’re behavioural.
The unbeatable mix of youth and experience
The advantages of a workforce that successfully blends youth with experience are hard to dispute. Anyone who’s been in the world of work for a decade or more, for example, has had the time to understand employment politics, been exposed to a range of people and developed a certain level of self-awareness. For most of us, this only arrives as we put ‘miles on the clock’, soaking up experiences as we move from the role of ‘student’ within the workplace to one of a teacher.
What’s more, mature colleagues have practised communicating ideas, working with people at different levels of an organisation, and troubleshooting issues. In short, ‘maturity’ and lived experience remains invaluable to an organisation, bringing a depth of thinking that provides balance to a younger workforce and makes for a very strong team.
Experience is also vital when something goes wrong – a reality that is inevitable in every working environment. A younger hire may have graduated top of the class but not yet learned how to react appropriately under pressure. While their contribution may still be important, maturity creates employees who get less rattled when problems occur.
Workplace maturity – a necessary component
Almost every mature employee, for example, can probably think back to their earlier days when an older colleague became a valued mentor, guided them through a crisis or helped them avoid mistakes. In our formative years at work, supportive, more mature co-workers can have a seminal impact on the careers of younger people. In the right circumstances, their influence can be transformational and build relationships that endure far beyond a time when they worked together.
And from the perspective of an experienced, older colleague, helping younger people to succeed can be one of the most life affirming career experiences. For the employer, this is a win-win where new talent can be honed by proven experience.
What’s more, while organisations need to adapt and find ways of applying new technologies continually, it is often the experienced employees who know an industry inside out and can spot opportunities for making processes and systems more efficient. Technology is useless without a team that can problem-solve ways to use it effectively. Indeed, multiple studies have found that gender, ethnically and culturally diverse organisations perform better. A University of Zurich study, for example, found that an increase in age diversity can have substantial positive productivity effects, particularly in innovative and creative companies.
Businesses focusing on technology-inspired progress must strike a balance with irreplaceable human capital. Employers who invest in the wisdom brought to the workplace by maturity can foster the attributes that many contemporary business leaders say they value the most. From creativity and innovation to emotional intelligence and an ability to cope under pressure, investing in workplace maturity is always money well spent.