Alan Begg CA: 'Older workers can play a vital role in future business growth'
ICAS Members Board member and retired CA Alan Begg shares his thoughts on age diversity and how employers should be reaping the benefits brought to the table by older workers.
What attracted you to the CA qualification and where has it taken you?
I was particularly good at mathematics and my father encouraged me to pursue using figures and numbers! (I wanted to be a doctor but didn’t have the qualifications). I did most of my secondary education at boarding school in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in coming home, with one year at Aberdeen Grammar School and onwards to Aberdeen University. I took an MA in Accountancy, Economics and Statistics at University. From there to CA indenture training with an Aberdeen practice subsequently taken over by Deloitte Haskins & Sells.
I’ve held a number of senior roles across the private and government sectors, my final role being one of two executive directors in the Valuation Tribunal Service (VTS) in London - a public sector role before retiring in 2014.
So, my CA qualification has taken me across various sectors and given me an appreciation of customer servicing and focus, as well as the recognition in society as to what a chartered accountant signifies and stands for professionally.
You have been very active professionally post-retirement. What was it that drove you to join committees and boards and what has that experience been like for you?
I decided on retiring, to keep my brain active! I applied for and was awarded various non-executive (NED) roles, some of which tenures have expired and have since been substituted by other such roles. I suppose my claim to fame to date has been an eclectic mix of NED roles, some time expired, others ongoing in/as:
- The charity sector – Board member and Chair of the ARC Committee
- NHS – Board member in my local CCG
- ARC Committee member in a group housing association
- Chair of the Board at Queen Mary University of London
- ARC Committee member in a north London Town Council
- Pensions Board member in the same north London Town Council
- Elite panel member of Liverpool Victoria Financial Services
- ICAS Members’ Board
All these board and committee roles have given me the opportunity to associate with people I would otherwise never have met. The experience has allowed me to offer my views and advice in a non-executive capacity, always looking at the wider picture for the business.
I love my roles albeit part-time as they are. At times though I think I’m working harder in retirement than when full time. I was a 4-handicap golfer until I had to give that up due to time constraints – now I enjoy only watching tournaments.
How do you think businesses should be ensuring they are open to older workers?
The landscape of our workforce is changing as we are living longer. Government research has shown by 2022 the number of people in the workforce aged 50 to State Pension age will have risen to 13.8m and the number aged 16-49 will have reduced by 700,000. A worker is no longer forced to stop working at age 65 – and have extended rights to flexible working.
Dr Ros Altmann is taking on the role of Business Champion for Older Workers to drive the culture change that needs to happen amongst employers and employees in respect of later life working. This government has done much to champion and support the older worker, such as abolishing the default retirement age and extending the right to request flexible working, but legislation alone is not enough.
The obvious solution is to embrace later life working, helping to realise the potential of older workers who have so much experience and talent to offer. This is not about being forced to work on but enabling and encouraging those who want a fuller working life.
Older workers can play a vital role in future growth both for individual businesses and the wider economy overall. Businesses must make sure older people’s skills do not go to waste. We need to re-think what ‘retirement’ looks like, especially as the population dynamics change. There are many potential advantages for all of us, including a stronger economy, higher living standards, less pensioner poverty, reduced benefit spending, and improved national wellbeing and intergenerational cohesion.
What do you think workforces lose without older workers?
Older workers offer their experience, from real-life occurrences they can pass on and from situations experienced that can assist development. An eclectic mix of older worker skills offers reliability, trust and an understanding of thinking through the alternative. Older workers I feel can be more cost-effective, and their experiences can help them to excel in whatever they are asked to do, including being clued up with technology. They also tend to stay in the job longer and are a reliable source for training and mentoring.
Employers need to adopt age-friendly policies such as flexible working, phased retirement, family care leave and even gap breaks. This can facilitate a new type of retirement, where people cut down rather than suddenly stop working, where health and wellbeing policies take account of older workers’ needs and where employers enable staff to combine work with caring responsibilities. Line managers with the right skills are crucial to successfully supporting older workers. Employers should focus also on stamping out age discrimination from the recruitment process.
In your opinion, what value can older CAs bring to organisations?
The older CA has had years of experience to pass on to students and newly qualified in particular. To organisations of any type, the years of dedicated investment in a business and experience derived from it, from attending courses to keeping up to speed on accounting policy and other such issues.
Older CAs can look more objectively at forward plans, challenge whilst adding support and act still with humility in assisting progress. This is particularly appropriate with NED experience.
Do you see value in mentoring?
Everyone needs help irrespective of age as one is always learning. I am a registered ICAS mentor.
There may be instances where the senior member has never been confronted with a particular framework, (an updated policy matter for instance) or managing certain IT software. Younger members will be more apt in managing advanced Excel for instance that is needed for the job.
Reverse mentoring is probably less common, but an exchange of ideas exists anyway where the older and younger member unite in thinking through and discussing matters of work, problem-solving etc. especially if they are joined in some team forum, committee structure et al.
ICAS is where it is today from being built on a solid foundation by the older CA who should never be too old to learn “new tricks”; and the younger member may be the one to provide them.
I encourage Members to get in touch with me to discuss any of the themes I have covered in this article.
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