Silver surfers shine as mentors online

The excellence of over-50s as online mentors is another good argument for hiking the retirement age.

Last Updated: 11 Nov 2010

As the debate continues to rage about whether UK workers should be allowed/ encouraged to work beyond the default retirement age, we were interested to see a list of awards given out recently by, an online mentoring website: the top three prizes all went to people over the age of 50. At a time when the UK is desperately looking for answers to the problems of recession, there’s clearly a lot to be said for the value of experience – the input of people who have (at least to some extent) seen it all before. And making greater use of these grey-hairs in the workplace would also save the public purse a bit of money…

Horsesmouth’s overall ‘mentor of the year’ award, for example, went to 64-year old Yorkshireman Keith Williams. ‘I was keen – from the outset – to help younger people avoid some of the classic business mistakes,’ he explains. ‘I would really encourage anyone who can to offer their experience and time mentoring through this medium.’ Unlike many of the other mentors on the site, Williams is actually a professional mentor, so this is a natural extension of his day job (which also means that you're getting his services on the site for free when you usually have to pay for it - bargain). Others dishing out advice include networking guru Carole Stone and representatives from the likes of Business Link, Make Your Mark and Everywoman.

Williams isn’t the only one who’ll tell you that older workers have a lot to offer. Chris Roebuck, a professor at Cass Business School, reckons his research has shown that they’re (inter alia) more focused and determined, more motivated to exceed expectations, easier to engage, take a longer term view, and better at dealing with difficult situations. Even if their energy levels are declining, he adds, they compensate with better interpersonal skills. ‘It is clear to me that older workers are probably better for organisations than many people think,’ he insists. ‘Most CEOs are over 60, and so the question is: why are they valued but 'workers' over 60 are not?’

It’s a fair point. And with the Government keen to get more silver surfers online via its Digital Inclusion agenda, they should have plenty of opportunity to put these skills to good commercial use – either as mentors or as workers in their own right. Most discussions of the retirement age tend to focus on fairness, or the financial consequences of trying to support an ageing population where people may spend up to a third of their life in retirement (and it’s true that allowing us to work longer would save a fortune in pension payments for the threadbare public purse). But as these awards remind us, UK plc has much to gain commercially by making better use of our older citizens.

In today's bulletin:

No relief for Brown as King weighs in and bankers hit back
Women and ethnic minorities lose out as inequality grows
Airlines lose $11bn in 'worst ever year'
A quarter of all training is pointless
Silver surfers shine as mentors online

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