Challenging ageism must become a priority for the grocery industry as it faces up to the challenges of the 21st century, claims IGD chief executive Joanne Denney. Manufacturers and retailers must put aside the mentality of prioritising the young in the battle for talented employees in the years ahead, she told the IGD annual convention. "The food and grocery industry should not make the dangerous assumption it will be able to attract the brightest young talent," Denney said. "The UK will need an estimated two million new managerial, professional and technical workers by 2009. There will be fierce competition to attract these people." She pointed to a labour source that is currently undervalued: "We should challenge ageism. This is a real priority of mine. When retirement age was set, life expectancy was another 18 months but this is now recognised as middle aged. "We must do more to retain and retrain mature employees otherwise we are wasting a wealth of experience." Denney also stressed that the importance of women employees to the industry should not be underestimated. "Two thirds of new jobs will, very likely, be taken by women, so flexible, female friendly policies are another priority." These concerns are central to a new report, Competing in the 21st Century, launched by the IGD at its annual convention in London, which reviews the spectrum of predicted change from new technologies to the growth in consumer power and environmental challenges. Denney's views are echoed in a recent report by the Futures team at the Industrial Society, which says the new economy will depend on the over-60s. Even the dotcom sector is increasingly looking to older workers to help them make the transition from start up to longer term, the report says. This demand has created a group of new elders' ­ warhorses' or trusted guides' with a wisdom and strategic knowhow that makes them indispensable to employers. The declining birthrate, says the report, means that employers "have no choice but to look to the older generation and are doing so enthusiastically for the first time as social change makes older workers fitter and more adaptable." Report author Charlotte Thorne said: "What businesses are after is wisdom and that puts older workers in pole position." {{PEOPLE MOVES }}