Over 50s deliver the goods for UK supermarket

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on April 22, 2002

It's increasingly difficult for over 50s to find work. But Asda has given them a chance and is now reaping the benefits - so much so that it's actively pursuing them. 

According to a CBI Labour Force Survey in 2000, one in three of the UK's over 50's are out of work. By 2020, there will be 2m more people over 50 in the potential labour force. And, according to the survey, "Just to maintain the labour force at its current size will require an increase in the participation rate amongst the 50+ bracket from 66.6% to 75% by 2010". Clearly, it is not easy to find a job in the UK if you are over 50. But this will have to change: for business' sake, it's going to increasingly make sense to employ more over 50's. But will it work? Can older workers deliver what is expected of them? Do they want to?

If the experience of the Wal*Mart-owned Asda supermarket chain is anything to go by, the answers to all these questions are resoundingly yes.

Successful pilot
In late 1999 Asda opened a store in Broadstairs. The store was a pilot - an unusual one. Over half of the workforce were aged 50 or over. The results confirmed Asda's hunch. The older workers were more than a match for those half their age when it came to enthusiasm, experience and the provision of top quality customer service. Since then other Asda stores have followed suit and increased the number of older workers. The result: in these stores absenteeism has dropped to a third lower than the company's national average; staff turnover rates are less than the already low company average, and the workforce is more flexible and better motivated.

The other side
What about the other side of the story? What do the older employees think of it? It seems that they are as enthusiastic about working for Asda as the supermarket is about having them. A recent open day for older workers at the new Southport store resulted in a queue of 400 over 50's and saw the store open with 21 per cent of its workers aged 50 or over.

While older workers could in fact do any jobs in the store, they have proven to be particularly good greeters � people at the front of the store welcoming customers, letting them know about today's best deals and announcing when hot bread is available. 

Would you like this dance? Or a job?
All of this has led Asda - which is steadily gaining the reputation of being the UK's "thinking" supermarket chain - to mount a "Goldies" campaign to recruit 50+ customers. In a bid to take advertising off the page, recruitment teams, accompanied by older colleagues, will be scouring coffee mornings, tea-dances, bingo halls and pension queues, distributing flyers and details. The company believes that this hands-on approach will prove to be a powerful draw card. Asda currently employs over 17,000 older workers - almost 16% of the total workforce - and wants to increase that to 20%. The great majority are aged 50-60, but nearly 300 of them have already turned 70.

Still going strong at 81
One of the "Goldies" is Bill Strachan. Aged 81, he is a porter at an Asda store in Scotland. An ex-farmer, he has lived and worked all over Britain and has been with Asda since 1993. He was a night-watchman for Aberdeen City Council until he retired at 65 but the quiet life didn't suit him. He missed the company of the workplace, "It's an honour to know that I'm the oldest Asda colleague in Scotland. All the colleagues are so good to me and work keeps me active and out of the pub."

There's hope for us Goldies yet!

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