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Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce

Boomers seem set on retirement challenging employers to retain their skills, so the focus should be on knowledge transfer to younger generations and keeping millennials engaged in the workforce for the next decade and beyond

A generational phenomenon, underpinned by increased life expectancy and decreasing birth rates, is sweeping across global markets, such as the UK and US, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. The professional workforce is ageing due to increased longevity and lower fertility. Nations are transitioning to cater for these demographical shifts by changing policy and infrastructure, such as abolishing mandatory retirement and increasing the pension age.

Top 5

‘Retiring workforce’ is voted by STEM professionals as one of the top 5 challenges likely to impact their careers


of STEM professionals aged 50-65 years-old are much less likely to look for a job in the next 12 months compared to their younger counterparts

According to the World Health Organisation, by 2050 we will live in a world where at least 20% of the global population is aged 60 and over. But an ageing population is more than just an older society –

it’s a global megatrend that is shaping the global workforce as “the baby-boomer generation begin to retire, taking their skills and experience with them”," says SThree’s CEO Timo Lehne. The reality of this phenomenon is “shaping the global workforce and driving exponential growth for specialist STEM talent.”

Employers need to keep older professionals engaged in the workforce beyond retirement to retain specialist skills. Equally, living a longer life of quality, thanks to advance in healthcare and technology, means we need to support ourselves for longer - financially and mentally. Being productive and contributing through work is critical in the way we can provide for ourselves into later life. So, how can both STEM professionals and businesses curate a longer working relationship?

How the STEM World Evolves research has identified a gap between what is important to professionals in their careers and how satisfied they are with those elements. This satisfaction-importance gap presents exciting opportunities, as businesses can use this knowledge to offer more exciting, inclusive and fulfilling roles to STEM professionals to retain them in the workforce longer and utilise the ageing population.

The boomers: retention is a given, but longevity is not

How the STEM World Evolves found that older STEM specialists aged 50-65 are much less likely to look for a different role in the next 12 months (Figure 1), suggesting professionals within this age bracket will remain at within their current positions until retirement. However, working beyond average retirement age is not a given, particularly as this demographic is more likely to score lower on job satisfaction than younger professionals. Are elder professionals ready to leave the workforce and can businesses encourage them to stay?

Overall, compared to their younger counterparts, STEM professionals over 50 are more likely to say they are dissatisfied with elements of their working life, including how engaging and inspiring they find their day-to-day work, but equally they don’t place much importance on this (Figures 2). The same pattern is seen across salary and rates, reward and recognition, training at work as well as their organisations’ missions and values or commitment to diversity, inclusion or positive environmental progress. This suggests most survey respondents are satisfied enough with the status quo of their role and the workplace to ride it out until retirement.


However, the top 3 elements that ages 50-65 find most important in their careers but are not satisfied with are:

  1. Salary and rates (40% vs 14%)
  2. Benefits received – for permanent employees only (34% vs 18%)
  3. Job and contract security (38% vs 29%); how engaging and inspiring day-to-day work is (28% vs 19%); and employers’/clients’ commitment to pay transparency & fairness (24% vs 15%)

Employers can use this satisfaction-importance gap to sweeten soon-to-be retiring STEM professionals with a more attractive role or contract. This would allow both parties to benefit. An ageing population would enjoy financial and cognitive gains from work. Whereas businesses can continue to benefit from these specialist’s experience and expertise whilst promoting knowledge transfer onto future workforce generations.

Knowledge transfer programmes are crucial to succeed in an ageing population

Knowledge transfer is seemingly a top challenge among STEM professionals, with retiring workforce and level of available expertise voted among the top 5 out of 15 challenges that will impact careers (Figure 3). Employers and employees alike are concerned by the declining skill sets and number of experts in the industry. To ensure business continuity in an ageing workforce, organisations must ensure there are robust knowledge transfer programmes in place so retiring professionals can mentor, guide and pass on their expertise to future generations.

Headshot of Timo Lehne - CEO, SThree
"Demographic changes resulting from the retiring generation is set to widen the skills gap further. Members of this retiring workforce have worked their whole life toward retirement and so if employers want to keep them in the workforce for fear of losing their skills, then they need to make it an attractive proposition. At the same time, they must consider avenues for upskilling or knowledge transfer programmes for their rest of their workforce to ensure they are supported." Timo Lehne, CEO, SThree

What will millennial STEM professionals want in 30 years?

Tapping into skills and expertise of older workers is crucial. However, if we’re to mitigate the shortage of talent projected for 2050, employers must also take note of what millennials and younger talent need from their roles to offer attractive career paths that keep these professionals engaged in the workforce beyond average retirement age.

By proactively understanding professionals under the age of 50 now using the importance-satisfaction gap data, businesses can future-proof and sustain the pipeline of sought-after STEM talent within an ageing population. Both parties stand to win if employers can really listen to what professionals want from their careers in now and later life and build trust for future employees by delivering on that.

The importance-satisfaction gap highlights where the greatest opportunities are for businesses to engage with younger workers (Figure 2).

Professionals under the age of 40 are more satisfied with contract and job security than 40–49-year-olds. However, this is of the highest importance to 40–49-year-olds, suggesting that providing a secure role and stream of financial income would keep professionals engaged.


The need to retain older professionals in the workforce is critical due to the ever-growing STEM skills shortage. Businesses need to act as the stakes are high, so employers must ensure they are delivering on the needs of sought-after talent of all ages or risk a skills gap timebomb.

Undoubtably, there is significant value in the potential contributions of an ageing population from a societal and economic standpoint. And so, if employers want to retain talent to lessen the skills gap, they must:

  • Listen to and understand the needs of the current STEM workforce across all ages.
  • Build trust with employees by delivering on their needs now, through proactively planning how to retain sought-after talent past the average retirement age with attractive roles and benefits packages.
  • Offer professionals the ability to upskill through projects or training in innovative technology.
  • Create purpose-driven environments.

STEM professionals also stand to benefit from continuing to work into later years – as we live longer, we’ll need more financial security and mental stimulation to feel engaged in life. But to motivate and maintain the engagement of older workers, employers must ensure that employees know their purpose, have a sense of belonging and enjoy the cognitive challenges of interesting work. Both parties, communities and society stand to win if the satisfaction-importance gap can be closed.

Dive deeper into How the STEM World Evolves

Uncover how the STEM world is changing in our new study How the STEM World Evolves! Discover:

  • How important security is to STEM professionals 
  • What STEM professionals want from their role
  • How purpose is influencing careers
  • How attitudes to wellbeing are evolving
  • What impact the ageing population will have on employees
  • Whether attitudes to AI and Automation are changing
Learn more

Discover the other sections in our study

STEM professionals value career security over a pay rise

STEM professionals value career security over a pay rise

In today’s economic climate, labour market shifts and megatrends are revolutionising the working world and influencing professionals' needs.

STEM professionals want more from their roles than employers are offering

STEM professionals want more from their roles than employers are offering

Apart from attractive salary rates and benefits, candidates continue to want flexibility. But how that looks has changed.

Purpose is the key driver in STEM professionals’ careers

Purpose is the key driver in STEM professionals’ careers

Purpose at work has become more important, and intrinsic personal purpose far outweighs organisational extrinsic purpose.

Over a third of STEM professionals are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation

Over a third of STEM professionals are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation

How can businesses help STEM professionals create a role-relevant partnership with AI, rather than be automated out of a job?

Concerns over wellbeing rising among STEM professionals

Concerns over wellbeing rising among STEM professionals

An increasing sense of pressure has caused a rise in specialists worrying about wellbeing in the past 12 months. What are the solutions?

Summary of findings

Summary of findings

Dive into the attitudes and expectations of STEM professionals as they try and make sense of our rapidly changing working environment.

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