Valuing our older people

Centrica and how we value older people

Today’s guest blog comes from Alison Hughes, Centrica’s Head of HR Policy and Diversity.

Alison is responsible for delivering the HR policy and diversity agenda across Centrica. Part of her role also involves providing leadership and implementation on developments within employment in order to maintain our position as a top employer.

Alison Hughes Head of HR Policy and Diversity, Centrica:

With over 36,000 people working for Centrica, I believe it’s essential that we have practices and policies in place to ensure that our business continues to be a great place to work – somewhere that’s tolerant, inclusive and fulfilling. This is because we recognise the valuable contribution a diverse workforce can make to our business success; driving the innovations needed to meet the varied needs of our customers – whether it’s developing new products and services or ensuring that we secure enough energy to power and heat homes and businesses. To achieve this success we must invest in generating skill opportunities for young people, but we must also remain committed to retaining our older workers, who bring with them not only a depth of professional expertise but also valuable life experiences. With today being International Day for Older Persons, I thought I would talk with you about how we go about achieving this.

Firstly - why is this so important? The UK’s population is living longer which means people are also working for longer. Those working past retirement age has almost doubled in the past 20 years1and it’s expected that by 2020, a third of workers will be older than 502. It is therefore crucial that we continue to attract, retain and provide effective support to those in the later stages of their working lives.

Attracting older workers

To maintain our diverse workforce, we take positive action to recruit from a wide range of employees, including older workers, and last year nearly 30% of our employees were aged between 45 and 64. At British Gas, we have taken a leading role providing opportunities for older workers by removing upper age limits for apprenticeship schemes, while our graduate programme also seeks the inclusion of mature graduates.

Here’s the experience of one of our older apprentices - Hitesh Gami is 42 and after working for 20 years in administration and retail he decided to pursue a lifelong interest in engineering as an apprentice. Hitesh started his apprenticeship in metering and progressed to developing skills in Services and Repair, where he currently spends around half his time at the British Gas Training Academy and the other half visiting customers’ homes under the supervision of fully qualified gas engineers. While Hitesh is older than the stereotypical apprentice, his age has never been an issue, ‘As far as British Gas is concerned, you can be an apprentice at any age, there’s no bias. Although I’m the oldest in my class…we all get on well as a good team so I don’t feel like I’m different in any way…as long as you’ve got the drive and passion to do the work you want to do, nothing else matters.’ And when Hitesh’s apprenticeship ends in 2017, he plans to stay with British Gas and work his way up to become an area manager.

Transferring knowledge and skills

While we invest in developing the skills of our older people, we also know they can play a crucial role growing the abilities of younger members of our workforce. Across the business, we actively encourage mentoring, which ensures vital knowledge and experience is transferred to the younger generation to develop a future talent pipeline and plug any skills gap.

Supporting our older workers

We have a best practice approach to supporting our employees, particularly older workers and carers, which was recently recognised with the winning of awards for being the ‘Best for Flexible Working’ and becoming a ‘Top 10 Employer for Working Families’.

Flexible working is important because it helps provide older workers with greater ability to balance work alongside personal lives. For example, in many roles it’s often possible to work reduced hours or part-time, take pre-retirement leave or utilise home working as a way to shorten the working day by reducing commuting time. Also, as the majority of carers in the UK are often older members of the workforce3, flexible working helps them fulfil their caring commitments, while our Carers Policy enables them to take up to a month paid leave each year. We also have a Carers Network that totals over 800 employees who provide a valuable source of support and guidance. And with 1 in 8 employees being a full time carer in the UK4, it’s really important that we have effective policies and practices in place to help these valuable members of our workforce remain in employment.

When the time comes for employees seeking retirement, we work with them to ascertain how we can support them during this transition. Employees are encouraged to have open discussions with their managers around retirement as part of their regular performance and development meetings. These important discussions increase our understanding of retirement aspirations and help us meet their needs.

We believe that older workers make a substantial contribution so we remain committed to providing an inclusive and diverse workforce that works well for our people, our customers and our business. You can visit our Diversity webpage or view our data centre for more information.


1 Department for Work and Pensions, Fuller Working Lives – A Framework for Action.

2 Office for Nation Statistics, Labour market projections 2006-2020. The growing number of older workers is due to a number of reasons such as the recently extended age at which a State Pension can be drawn, the phasing out of the default retirement age as well as the poor economic conditions in the UK.

3The peak age for carer employees is between 45-64 when careers are peaking having already gained valuable skills and experience: Employers for Carers, Business case.

4 Facts about Carers, Carers UK