If we are to get older workers who have dropped out back to work both employers and older workers will need to take action, says Suzanne Noble.
There has been a considerable amount of media coverage recently about the government’s aim to encourage more over 50s back into work due to the labour shortage in many key sectors such as hospitality, retail and construction. Jeremy Hunt caused a stir when he said: “You (over 50s) can have an enormously rich life by continuing to contribute to the economy. It doesn’t just have to be about going to the golf course”, suggesting most over 50s were occupying themselves with leisure activities and not searching for a suitable role.
In my experience running Startup School for Seniors, the issues around re-employing those over 50 will take more than a carrot-and-stick approach. It will require buy-in from employers reluctant to hire older workers due to ageism and having to accommodate their needs.
One of the significant issues that older workers face is health and mobility issues. As we age, our bodies tend to deteriorate, and we become more susceptible to various health conditions that can limit our ability to work efficiently. Older workers may develop chronic conditions like arthritis, back pain or may have some form of neurodiversity.
These health and mobility issues can create barriers to employment for older workers, particularly in industries that require physical labour, such as retail, hospitality or construction – the very sectors in which there is a labour shortage. Many employers may be reluctant to hire older workers due to concerns about their ability to perform the required
tasks or the need to provide accommodations.
Another factor that can make it challenging for older workers to find employment is that many are caregivers. Approximately one in five people over 50 in the UK are caregivers, most of whom are women. Many older workers may find themselves caring for an ageing parent, spouse or another family member, which can limit their availability to work or require them to take time off to attend to their caregiving duties.
Furthermore, many older workers may need help finding suitable roles that match their skills and experience. Some employers may need to pay more attention to the value that older workers can bring to their organisation, preferring to hire younger, less experienced candidates. Older workers may also face ageism in the hiring process, with employers assuming that they are less adaptable, less productive, or less likely to stay in the job for an extended period.
Addressing these issues will require a multi-faceted approach involving employers and older workers. Employers must recognise the value of older workers and be willing to provide accommodations to meet their health and mobility needs. They may also need to be more flexible in their hiring practices, looking beyond age and instead focusing on an individual’s skills, experience, and potential. Policies need to be put in place to eliminate bias in the hiring practice and to make it a requirement to ensure a percentage of any workforce is over 50.
Older workers, meanwhile, may need to be proactive in maintaining their health and staying up-to-date with new technologies and industry trends. They may also need to retrain or reskill to make themselves more marketable in today’s rapidly changing job market.
Technology is easier to use today than ever before and my experience with working with those over 50 is that they have no trouble getting to grips with most software programmes once they are shown how to use them.
The issue of re-employing older workers is complex and cannot be solved by simply encouraging them to “get back to work”.
It will require a concerted effort from employers, policymakers and older workers to address the challenges posed by health and mobility issues, caregiving responsibilities and ageism in the workplace. However, older workers can continue to make valuable contributions to the economy and society with the proper support and resources. Let’s give them the chance they deserve to show the difference they can make in the workplace when given the opportunity and the support they require.
*Suzanne Noble is co-founder of the Start-up School for Seniors which runs a programme that helps older workers realise their entrepreneurial potential.