The power of enterprise to bridge the generational divide

We need to value the experience and skills of older workers more and harness that to help younger workers, argue Orpa Haque and Stephen Burke.



In its recent report, United For All Ages observes how ‘age apartheid in the UK’ has led to divisions within our communities and across our country – evidenced not least by recent elections, the continuing Brexit debate and the focus on intergenerational fairness, but also because people of different ages are unlikely to mix with each other outside their own families.

Compared with other issues that we face on a daily basis, ageism may not be high on the agenda for many, but it is now more important than ever to break down generational boundaries and perceptions for the benefit of our economy, our social fabric and also our public health.

Take the fact that, for the first time in our modern age, we have five generations present in the workplace. While we often hear about how companies should be attracting and retaining millennial and generation z talent, we hear little about the value-add of older generations. Common sense dictates that a strong blend of ideas and contributions from a broader group of diverse ages within a company would benefit the business. But this is something not often discussed – or maybe even encouraged.

Knowledge legacy

Yet without doubt, the older generation has the experience and knowledge that could be vital to a younger cohort. Just imagine if you could bridge this age divide and utilise these skills for the benefit of the younger generation – a new knowledge legacy model that values the contribution of older people like never before. It is clear that something needs to change. We are living in an age where more than 6.6m young people aged 15-24 were neither in employment nor in education or training in the EU. At the same time, the EU youth unemployment rate is more than double the overall unemployment rate. While training and education are a priority for every nation, an intergenerational knowledge legacy model could be a preferred new option.

Additionally, how can the older generation themselves be supported in their own entrepreneurial ambitions? The workforce in the UK is changing fast – by 2020 one in three workers will be over 50, and by 2030 half of all adults in the UK will be over 50. But for a large majority of these people, reaching retirement age is not the end of their working life; many want to continue to be productive, work on their dreams and ambitions, and play a role in society. For example, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity in the US for the last 15 years has been among the 55 to 64 age group. But this is not just a US phenomenon. Entrepreneurs aged 50 and above in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many other countries, are launching start-ups faster than any other cohort.

Bringing the generations together

The good news is that there are initiatives taking place designed to disrupt the status quo. For example, the Princes Trust operates a mentoring scheme to provide one-to-one support for up to three years to a young person starting in self-employment. There’s also Grandmentors that boasts impressive results: 82% of the care leavers supported by Grandmentors are in education, employment or training after six months, compared to just 51% nationally. To add to this, Brightside trains the best mentors, connects them with young people and supports them as they work together through award-winning online programmes, enabling young people to develop the knowledge and confidence they need to succeed.

When it comes to senior entrepreneurship, the Smart Ageing Prize by the AAL Programme and Nesta Challenges is looking for innovative solutions that support, empower and inspire older adults to engage in entrepreneurship – solutions that are not already available on the market. Senior enterprise allows older adults to contribute to society and create meaningful connections, creating resilient and sustainable businesses and social ventures, as well as leveraging the complementary skills and knowledge of younger adults for intergenerational collaboration.

Valuing the older generation

Solutions can either be digital or tech based or can utilise non-technological solutions, tools and infrastructure. Solutions could take many forms, such as an academy that offers structured programmes supporting older adults to create businesses; or a matchmaking app targeted at connecting older entrepreneurs; or even career platforms

helping older adults navigate enterprise-related opportunities.

Placing real value on the older generation is a start and is the responsibility of many. From the media to policy

Orpha Haquemakers and at the watercooler, there is a need to change the vernacular, the imagery and the sentiment to position old adults as valuable assets. There’s also a need to better showcase the intergenerational projects that are succeeding in uniting the generations 

while also delivering valuable economic and social benefit. With a large cohort of baby boomers just about to retire, the opportunity is there for the taking.

*Orpa Haque [pictured above] is Assistant Programme Manager at Nesta Challenges, and Stephen Burke is founder and director of think tank United For All Ages.

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