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Employment policies failing older workers

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Existing employment policies are failing to address the biggest challenges facing older workers, according to research from Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing.

The report, Ageing Workforce Policy Briefing Note, identified four key areas that need further consideration as a matter of urgency:

1. The complex relationship between employment, finances, health and care

2. Regional inequalities in health and employment opportunities

3. A labour market that is not working for older employees

4. A business environment that doesn’t support older workers

The researchers noted that career guidance tends to be focused on younger workers rather than continuing throughout a person’s life. Matt Flynn, director of the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce at Newcastle University Business School, said that businesses often fail to recognise that older workers can be just as ambitious as recent graduates.

“There is an urgent need for more learning and career development opportunities for older people, especially for the 126,000 jobseekers aged over 50 who have been out of work for more than a year,” he said.

“Much is being made of government figures showing that 44% of people signing up for apprenticeships are over 25. However, the government should be expanding rather than reigning in opportunities for older jobseekers to get back into work, learn new things, and apply their skills and experiences to new challenges.”

The report also provided a series of recommendations. These include reviewing the guidelines around flexible working to help organisations understand how to promote it to older workers, and robustly tackling age discrimination by businesses and recruitment agencies.

Louise Robinson, director of the Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and professor of primary care and ageing, said that although companies are starting to recognise the commercial benefits of having older employees, this tends to focus on staff remaining in current roles. “People no longer have just one job or even one career throughout their life, but there are still considerable barriers facing older workers trying to re-train to start a new career or return to employment after time out of the workforce,” she said. 

“The government and business groups need to work together to challenge the cultural prejudices that cause recruiters to be sceptical of older job applicants.”