How has Covid affected self-employment? speaks to Suzanne Noble for Startup School for Seniors about the impact of Covid on self-employment.


Last week the Office for National Statistics published a report entitled, Over 50s Lifestyle Study: Attitudes and reasons for workers over 50 leaving employment since the start of the pandemic. It looked at employment in the wake of Covid and found that some older people who were put on furlough or made redundant in the pandemic had opted not to return to work afterwards. Others had struggled to get back to work. Some had chosen self-employment and did not want to return to the workforce while others had chosen early retirement. spoke to Suzanne Noble, co-director of the Startup School for Seniors, about the report and about Covid’s implications for self-employment.

workingwise: Have you seen an increase in older people coming to you who have lost their jobs during the pandemic and/or found it difficult to get back into the workplace?

Suzanne Noble: Yes, and more from the corporate workplace than we had at the start of the pandemic. An article about Startup School in the Telegraph, for example, generated nearly 600 enquiries, typically from those working in finance, engineering and HR, who were unable to find suitable roles. Many are now setting themselves up as freelance consultants as a result.

ww:  What impact does that have on their sense of self confidence?

SN: The impact on one’s self-confidence when losing your job in later life cannot be underestimated. Our learners typically report feeling a lack of value, that their decades of service to their industry has been unrewarded and unrecognised. They question whether there’s a place for them in the modern work environment.  Many struggle with depression and other mental health conditions which they can directly attribute to losing their job.

ww:  How do you help to rebuild that through your work?

SN: We know that work provides people with a sense of purpose and gives meaning to one’s life. It provides social connections. We recognise that the peer to peer support we provide through Startup School for Seniors, being able to meet others in a similar position to one’s self, is a major part of why the course is so successful and why people come on it in the first place. Being self-employed can be a lonely place so providing a social framework is tremendously important. Otherwise, it can feel as if you’re starring at the same four walls every day.

ww: Are there any trends in the kind of sectors you have seen people coming to you from in the last two years and in the kind of businesses they are interested in starting?

SN: We see more people coming on the course creating businesses directly related to problems they have or are currently encountering, especially related to their age and experience. Many are now informal carers and setting up businesses around some aspect of the challenges they face around looking after an elderly relative. Others are more indirectly related to ageing, such as preserving family memories or uncovering family histories.

ww: You are a finalist in the International Longevity Centre’s innovation competition. What do you think makes you stand out?

SN: One in five workers aged between 50 and 69 is now self employed, more than any other age group, according to the Centre for Ageing Better. Self-employment is no longer the preserve of the few but the many and I suspect that’s what makes our programme so important. Creating work for tomorrow is moving more and more, especially post-pandemic to doing work that matters, that aligns with one’s values and can be done during the hours that suit individual’s circumstances and not necessarily 9-5pm. As society recognises the value of giving their employees a work-life balance, I believe more people will be starting side-businesses or working for themselves. Our solution isn’t pie-in-the-sky; we’re solving a genuine problem.

ww: Some of the finalists focused on healthy work and one of the key drivers for self-employment is work-life balance. Is this something that you see as a big factor for people turning to self-employment, despite the problems many self-employed people have faced in the last two years?

SN: Perhaps not so much work-life balance as work-life necessity. With one in five people aged 50+ being informal carers, their need for flexible working conditions is greater than ever. The modern workplace is often not cut out to accommodate an older worker’s needs, whether that be around caring responsibilities or health/mobility issues. The choice to become self-employed, in our experience, is often thrust upon many of our learners, rather than a deep desire to be self-employed.

ww: Do you think policymakers are realising that they need to do more for older workers, given longevity trends, labour shortages etc?

SN: The latest ONS reports on older workers demonstrate that there’s simply not enough being done for older workers, although we are now receiving enquiries from large private corporations seeking to partner with us so the recognition is slowly getting there. Frankly, we’d like to see a future where our programme sits within the Department for Work and Pensions as a possible pathway to employment, with every person aged 50+ being given the opportunity to turn their lived or work experience into revenue.

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