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Retired Engineer Finds Appetite for New Role

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This article has been submitted by The Welsh Government 

A Gwynedd snack bar manufacturer has shown its commitment to investing in its older employees’ skills by backing a new Welsh Government campaign designed to challenge stereotypes and show ’people do not have a best before date’.

When Halo Foods closed its factory in Tywyn three years ago, engineer Keith James thought that signalled the end of his career. But Brighter Foods, a new start-up food manufacturer that was about to set up near the former Halo site had other ideas to put his vast experience to use, creating the perfect recipe for a flexible second career.

Keith and Brighter Foods are supporting the Welsh Government’s Age of Investment initiative launched during Skills for Work Week, which highlights to employers across Wales the importance of retaining their older workers.

It warns employers that within the next five years, one in three people of working age will be over fifty. Therefore, investing in skills throughout an employee’s working life has never been more important.

Keith, 68, who lives in Tywyn and is married with grown up children, had worked at Halo for more than 20 years and, as he puts it, he ‘thought that was that’ – until Brighter Foods opened its doors.

He said:

“A lot of people moved from Halo to Brighter, but I was 65 and I was certain there would be nothing for someone of my age.

“But then I bumped into Paul Pierce, the head of operations, who said they were looking for someone with my background to assist with projects. I knew I had the experience and could be of use, but it was lovely to be given the opportunity. It’s nice to top up my pension but, more importantly, I didn’t feel ready to retire when I finished at Halo.”

Keith helped oversee phase one, the opening of Brighter’s first factory, and went on to work on the opening of the second too.

“I was asked to go to Slovakia for a week to see a plant there, which was interesting,” says Keith. “I now assist with engineering and work on different projects, and feel my experience is valued here, which is great.”

Brighter invests heavily in staff training to combat a national skills shortage and to ensure experience is passed on from key members of staff to newer workers. Keith, who is contracted to work 60 hours per month but who is happy to step in with additional support at busy periods, also benefits from learning new skills such as how to operate new machinery.

Brighter Food’s HR Director, Samantha Williams, explains:

“We don’t feel the need for a specific policy on older workers. Our workforce is very age diverse, the youngest is 16 and the oldest is 68. Our policies are geared up to equality of opportunity regardless of age. For example, we offer flexible work patterns and employment contracts for older workers who want to work less whatever the reason, be it returning to work after illness or simply to help with the grandchildren.

“Although Brighter Foods is less than three years old, some of our staff have been making cereal bars in Tywyn for over 25 years. Whilst investment in new skills and training is vitally important to us, we benefit hugely from the knowledge, skills and experience of our older workers and the way they willingly share this with their younger colleagues.”

As part of Age of Investment, the Welsh Government has teamed up with BITC Cymru, Learning and Work Institute and the Older People’s Commissioner to launch the ‘People Don’t Have a Best Before Date’ campaign, designed to challenge the stereotypes of older workers and demonstrate their value in the workplace.

Keith is one of eleven employees selected from a cross-section of exemplar Welsh businesses that have shown a commitment to investing in an all-age workforce to feature in the campaign. It will combine radio and digital advertising and downloadable advice guides and toolkits to illustrate to employers the tangible business benefits of creating a skilled, effective, multi-generational workforce.

Commenting on the launch of this campaign and highlighting why it has never been more important for companies to recognise how valuable their older worker are.

Skills and Science Minister, Julie James, said:

“Older workers are vital for the future prosperity of our economy and our businesses. Retaining people, developing their skills throughout their working life and recruiting older workers has never been more critical to business survival as well as growth.

“Our workforce in Wales is getting older and young people joining the labour market will not fill all of the vacancies. This campaign is designed to encourage all employers – but particularly SMEs where the loss of skills and cost of recruitment can be more consequential – that they need older workers to survive and grow.

“We hope it will reinforce the issue to Welsh businesses of all sizes and give them practical advice on how they can manage and retain the skills and experience of their older workers, and appeal to the market of older recruits.”

For employers looking for more information on how they can invest in the skills of their older workers, the Welsh Government’s Skills Gateway for Business – https://businesswales.gov.wales/skillsgateway/ has a range of advice and guidance.