Regional strategies, an improved understanding of the needs and circumstances of older workers and an end to the pernicious effects of ageism… just some of what is needed if older people are to play a full part in the workplace. By AAA members Wise Age.
Wise Age, the London-based over-50s employment support charity, recently gave oral evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Works & Pensions. This blog is adapted from the key points they made.
Following our oral evidence to the committee we would like to summarise some key points we believe are important to increasing the role of older workers in the economy at the present time and better employment support. This is based on our direct experience of working for twenty years in London assisting older workers gain employment and helping employers to become age friendly.
- There need to be regional strategies for older workers involving partnerships between local government, DWP, employer organisations, trade unions and specialist bodies like ourselves who are embedded in local communities and understand the dynamics of older workers. It’s not enough just to deal with the complex problems facing older workers within the margins of existing general employment initiatives and programmes, and there is a need for policy measures to address the drivers of the current problems.
- We need an improved understanding of the needs and circumstances of older workers particularly the barriers to employment with better evidence and data. We know that there are 3.6 million 50-64 year olds who are economically inactive and rising – with 300,000 more than pre pandemic. And 500,000 of this group want to work. But there are big risks of lumping all “older workers” together as well as making assumptions about needs, or looking at older workers through the prism of existing provider employment support initiatives.
- Similarly, we have to be careful of ageist assumptions about reasons for older workers exiting the job market such as the “great retirement” or “great lie down” or “off playing golf”. We need to know more about the impact of health issues, gender issues, ethnicity, financial issues as well as previous work experiences and whether they were negative, in order to provide the right support. Wise Age increasingly uses life coaches as part of its employment support to help deal with often complex problems facing older workers.
- Older workers need access to better quality localised employment support addressing their needs. But it’s important this is tailored, and our evidence is that older workers don’t like being grouped with younger workers on generic employment programmes. Access to all training and support needs to be better promoted. As many older workers are not in receipt of state benefits then ensuring existing employment support services reach a wider audience of over 50s through a personalisation agenda will be necessary.
- The elephant in the room in much of the discussion about older workers is the pernicious effects of ageism by employers and this needs to be tackled much more firmly. We see this in recruitment, redundancies, and how older workers or those approaching “retirement” get treated. Otherwise there is a risk that older workers return in some cases to the workplace but suffer from the same negative experience. Also, our evidence is that workers suffer from internalised ageism Combatting ageism therefore has to be a core component of local employment strategies.
- Clearly, we need more age friendly employers – who value older workers, make their organisations fit for them, eliminate ageism in recruitment, ensure flexible working opportunities, use job design for older workers’ needs, provide better training for older workers rather than just for younger employees and promote the direct benefits of older workers in the workforce in terms of productivity. Wise Age has its own Older Workers Charter and Age Diversity Declaration (see www.wiseage.org.uk) but government and employer organisations need to champion older workers and also publish employment data on over 50s by organisation.
- We have argued for the need to run a campaign that publicises the active role of older workers and the value of multi-generational workforces, dispels the myths of older workers and the need for more organisations to become age friendly. This is key in changing employment culture as well as a way of giving older workers more self-belief.
- Older workers seeking support needappropriate advice in seeking employment and options for them. But that advice needs to be carefully tailored around needs as well as using different channels to reach older workers. Unfortunately, the experience of older people using such materials is they fail to cater for older people – photos of older workers are few and much of the focus is oriented around young people.
- There is a need within local older workers strategies to ensure that community-based training is increased. A body like Wise Age performs a key role in providing employment support locally with tailored and empathetic programmes , trusted by recipients and ultimately achieving good employment outcomes. But for specialist providers like ourselves, funding is precarious and this is because the DWP bidding system will benefit larger providers with off the shelf packages, but they do not provide the same customised effective employment training support.
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