The Grey Matters network: Putting a value on experience

Barry Walsh caught up with Tony Devine, one of the co-founders of the Grey Matters network, a company that focuses on helping organisations access the huge value of the mature or seasoned worker.

What led you and your two co-founders to setting up The Grey Matters Network?

Mick Furlong and I had met initially when doing an MBA at UCD Business School and we had worked together for many years also. At the end of 2014, we were finishing our long-term careers and felt that we had significant experience and personal development that we could leverage in the workforce.

Our own network was limited to our own connections, so we invited Declan Hughes to join us with his successful background in the SME space. In March 2015, we put together a list of our own direct connections to pitch the concept. From this, 27 experts reassured us that the concept made sense. We formally registered the company as ‘The Grey Matters Network Consultancy DAC’ in July 2015.

Today we are at over 500 associates and we are adding an average of ten people per month

Why did you set up GMN?

We set up GMN to provide organisations with easy access to the experience and expertise of seasoned professionals. In our own careers, we witnessed the value that individuals with many more years of experience can bring to any situation.

Our emphasis is very much on the value that our associates can bring to an opportunity. We do not lead on age, but rather we emphasise the intergenerational workplace, where generations working together deliver better results.

“In our own professional careers, we witnessed the value that individuals with many more years of experience can bring to any situation”

What do you think are the biggest benefits of employing the so called “silver surfer” generation?

We place emphasis on the value of experience. That value can be delivered whether the individual is employed on a full-time permanent basis or in a shorter-term assignment. There is an abundance of data now available that addresses the benefits. These include:

  • Perspective: We now have a society where half the population is over 50. By 2031 at least 32 per cent of the labour force in Ireland will be over 50

  • Better together: The intergenerational workplace is the workplace of the future

  • Capacity: The older (50+) worker is the only growing cohort in the workforce

  • Expertise: The mature employee can typically hit the ground running

  • Reliability: The older worker has a reputation for being reliable and steady

  • Relationship skills: As we mature, in general, our ability to relate to others improves

  • Loyalty: Baby Boomers (59 to 74 years of age) stay 18 per cent longer to the average in their jobs

What are the biggest myths about employing people from older generations?

The ESRI released an excellent report last October, The Ageing Workforce in Ireland. The report talks about the three different views of age. Our Chronological age (it’s what’s on our birth cert), Bio age (indicated by markers such as dexterity both physical and cognitive) and Social age. The latter is where society can often discriminate based on age (perceived or actual).

Society often assumes that older means costlier or less productive. We are all prone to unconscious bias.

The same ESRI report also addresses the many myths that relate to age with research data. Some of the myths around the more experienced workforce are:

  • Older implies Costlier and less efficient

  • We get slower with age

  • Older people and technology don’t mix

  • Older workers take the jobs of younger workers

These simply aren’t true and the ESRI report provides the research to dispel what are really generalised perceptions.

You do a lot of career coaching. What are some of the biggest fears about going back into the workforce from the older generation?

No two situations are the same, however there a few general themes.

  • Unconscious bias:

The biggest fear of the older generations in finding work is ageism. It is perceived that organisations will form an unconscious bias either by checking them out online or based on their CV even before they get to an interview.

  • Will I fit in?

A common euphemism for age that is used by some to reject an older candidate is that ‘we don’t feel you would fit in here’. The more appropriate view is that the older person can bring the perspective of your experience, of your generation which is very likely a major portion of the organisation’s clients.

  • Less willing to learn:

There is that perception out there that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This needs to be addressed as it is a basic requirement of most jobs. Everybody needs to continuously learn and adapt as our surroundings and situation change – no matter what age you are. It is therefore important that you demonstrate that you continuously adapt and learn new skills.

  • I need a flexible work arrangement:

In many cases the older worker or the returning worker needs a flexible work arrangement to provide care for family members, parents, or children. Organisations have mostly been reluctant to embrace this in the past.

How successful have your placements been?

All our assignments have proven successful, repeat business being a compelling measure. Recent examples include Fenergo, CAE Parc Aviation and SISK.

“There is that perception out there that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”

What do you find works best in terms of promoting your company both to employers and the target market?

We find that the most effective marketing of our services is through word of mouth and warm referrals through our network members. We have contributed to several newspaper articles, radio interviews and social media postings. We also run a major event once a year and monthly meetings with our Associates.

Is there anything the government could be doing more on to support this generation in the workforce?

Our cross sector Intergenerational Workplace initiative is already generating some ideas – for example let’s change the narrative from ‘let’s reduce the pension age’ to ‘let’s allow people to work as long as they can’. We would also like to see incentives for people to re-enter or stay in the workplace past the traditional retirement age.

Are there any other Irish founded companies that are advocating for similarly disenfranchised groups currently?

No, there is no other company in Ireland that focuses exclusively on older workers. In fact, we have talked to people in several countries who are interested in developing a GMn.

Interview by Barry Walsh

Originally published 27th March 2020