Employers need to be doing more to attract mothers, carers, retired people and other "returners" back into the workplace if they want to tackle Britain's changing workplace demographic, a new report has suggested.
The study by City & Guilds has said more than 2.1 million new entrants to the workforce will be needed by 2020 and the dormant skills of such returners are currently being left untapped.
There is an abundance of skilled workers ready to return to the workplace, with more a third hoping to get back in within the next three months, it argued.
From 2010 onwards, the number of young people reaching working age will begin to fall by 60,000 every year, fundamentally changing the shape of the workforce, the report concluded.
The UK will therefore need 2.1 million new entrants to the adult workforce between 2010 and 2020, a demand will only be able to be met through a combination of most adults working longer and a huge increase in the number of adults re-entering the labour force.
Older workers out of the workplace often face a "worry curve", where initial optimism about returning to work is followed by increasing levels of concern, followed by feelings of resignation as a result of being out of work. This reinforces the need to get people back into work quickly.
Reassuringly, more than two thirds of employers have already employed someone who has been out of work for a period of time, said the study.
In addition, many organisations feel that "returners" would have a constructive effect on their business, with a quarter believing that they are more positive towards work.
When asked about the maximum amount of time that someone could be out of the workplace before successfully returning, half of employers (52 per cent) claimed that there wasn't one, reflecting the widespread acceptance of changing work habits, as more and more employees take time out from their careers.
However, a significant proportion of companies (18 per cent) felt the maximum was between six months and a year, suggesting that the long-term unemployed meet a genuine attitudinal barrier to returning to work.
Mothers were the most concerned about returning to the workplace with nearly half worried about going back to work after having a child.
In comparison it is those that are retired (15 per cent) who were the least apprehensive about the move back into working life, compared with 31 per cent of people overall.
Of those concerned about returning, nearly half (46 per cent) were nervous that they did not have sufficient skills, despite having a high level of qualifications.
This isn't an unfounded fear as nearly a third of employers that had recently employed "returners" felt that their skills needed to be updated.
A further 39 per cent of those worried about returning (and especially those in the 40–65 age group) felt that changes in technology were an area of major concern, highlighting the need for IT training.
The report made it clear that employers and individuals needed to work together to make the transition back into the workplace a smooth one.
The majority (59 per cent) of those worried about returning felt that training would help them overcome their concerns.
A further four in ten (37 per cent) viewed work placements and career advice as the solution.
A general misconception among employers was that those coming back to work would expect to come back at the same level that they left.
However, this is not the case, with 45 per cent expecting to take a step down to a more junior role to help them re-enter the workplace, with those in the 40-65 age group most likely to feel that they would have to do this.
Judith Norrington, head of policy development at City & Guilds, said: "Many of those looking to return to the workplace have much-needed skills, including management, IT, engineering and construction experience, that could benefit UK industry and fill the impending skills gap.
"And our research demonstrates a clear need for further advice and training, particularly in technology, to increase skills and confidence of those hoping to return to work after an extended time away.
"In light of the impending skills crisis, it is critical that employers review their retention and recruitment policies and welcome a diversity of skills in the workplace."
Dr Stephanie Morgan, chartered psychologist added: "It is clear that those seeking employment should be offered targeted training, work placement and career guidance early on.
"City & Guilds' findings show that the changes in confidence and attitude over time, and the increased likelihood of negative attitudes by the employers towards long-term unemployed, mean that the unemployed will find it much harder to find work if they are not effectively supported from the start," she added.