The impending introduction of legislation to ban discrimination on the grounds of age - whether older or younger - will have huge implications for employers, says Steve Crabb

The most significant event on the HR horizon for 2006 is, of course, the introduction of legislation to formally ban discrimination on the grounds of age, which is going to have momentous implications for employers in this country.
But while many organisations are rightly reviewing their policies to ensure they don’t discriminate against older workers, the legislation will outlaw discrimination against all age groups and, in many respects, it’s younger workers that companies should be thinking about urgently. A lot of media attention has been given to the increasing numbers of older people in the population and the effect this will have on the workforce, but not enough has been said about the precipitous decline in younger workers.
Take Scotland, for example. Robert Wright, professor of economics at the University of Strathclyde, told People Management magazine recently that he expects the population to decline by 10% over the next 40 years. “There will be a massive reduction in the supply of labour, which will put pressure on wages to increase and make the Scottish economy less competitive, leading to a dramatic reduction in economic growth,” he said.
Official statistics support this. Based on existing trends, Scotland’s population peaked in 1974 at 5.24 million - and by 2028 it will be down to 4.88 million. Despite a healthy influx of young people from the new EU member states - particularly Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - the whole of the UK is facing similar population drops.
Plenty of time to turn things around, you might think. But sensible employers are already thinking 10 years ahead to where their future employees are coming from and ensuring they have a healthy ‘talent pipeline’.
I’ve written before about Tesco’s impressive work with students and young people.
Sainsbury is now sponsoring an equally impressive initiative for young people - a website called b-live. The proposition is simple, but brilliant. Essentially, b-live is a careers advice website aimed at teenagers.
It’s free to use and paid for by advertising and sponsorship. In effect, it has created a whole new marketplace for employers; instead of having to reach individuals through a myriad of school and college careers advice centres, b-live offers employers a single point of contact to advertise jobs.
And, unlike traditional careers advice services (at least the sort they had when I was at school), b-live offers a host of interactive facilities to bring users back to the site, ranging from the practical (‘build your own cv’) to the fun (opinion polls, discussion forums and a whole section on music).
Security is ensured by limiting access to students of schools that have registered (free) for the service and pupils have to work with teachers to sign up.
So far b-live is reaching about 45,000 students in 130 schools across central England and it’s being rolled out gradually across the UK. One of the most interesting aspects is that b-live gets its users thinking about their career options and the implications of their decisions. So one of the largest investment banks, for example, has found that many girls effectively rule themselves out of a career in the City because of the GCSE choices they take when they are 14.
If websites such as b-live can actually get young people thinking about working in the grocery sector, and the options available to them, that’s got to be good news all round.
n Steve Crabb is editor of People Management