London’s Silver Economy

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Older workers...what's in store?

Positive Ageing in London (PAiL) held powerful event with Age UK and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to discuss the future working prospects of bring people aged 50 and above in the capital.

At the beginning of September Positive Ageing in London (PAiL) partnered Age UK and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to bring together people aged 50 and above to discuss their future prospects of working in the capital.

Training in digital skills was particularly high on the demand list and the group agreed that, with the right support, silver surfers and social seniors could significantly contribute to London’s digital and technology economy. But could the capital’s employers embrace a new generation of silver coders?

The length of time required to work before drawing a state pension is increasing, yet PAiL highlighted that fewer older workers (defined as people aged 50 and above) find full time work if they have been made redundant after the age of 50.

Barbara’s* working life illustrated many of threats and opportunities prevalent in the older worker job market. Like many women of her generation, she left school at 16 equipped with skills in administration and secretarial work.

Although these skills initially served her well, a series of redundancies due to companies automating in-house processes and downsizing staff numbers left Barbara relying on friends, family and her own initiative to try new work and retain a liveable income.

Approaching 60 and needing to work for another few years before she could draw a state pension, Barbara faced yet another period of employment uncertainty. Her confidence waned, which only diminished her chances of getting a job.

However, the life, work and people skills accrued in her jobs and during periods of unemployment have proved invaluable in helping other older workers find suitable employment. Barbara now works for the DWP, coaching people over 65 who are struggling to make ends meet to find pockets of short-term work.

Employment becomes increasingly difficult to secure for every year over the age of 50 and as the ranks of older workers swell, so the number of unemployed in this group also rises. PAiL warned that this is a driving factor in the growing threat of pensioner poverty.

PAiL estimated around one million single, female pensioners are living below the level of taxable income and more than half of informal carers are these older women who are close to pensioner poverty.

Unemployed older workers face several barriers to getting work, PAiL added, and those who faced discrimination in gaining employment before the age of 50 were likely to find the situation worsen once they moved into the older worker category.

Other barriers include the perception that:

· Older people take younger people's jobs

· Employing older workers stops the career progression of a younger person

· There is little difference between someone aged 50 and an 80 year-old

· An older worker will be infirmed and take a lot of time off due to illness

However, there is growing evidence that age diversity within a company’s workforce increases profits, productivity and morale. The silver economy is now being seen as a motor for growth, with older people bringing knowledge and experience gained from working in variety of sectors into teams and companies.

Older workers also offer high levels of commitment and loyalty and are less likely to take time off for sickness. There is also evidence that younger members of the workforce benefit from the support and mentoring that can be offered by an older worker.

The group noted that as well as having an older workers’ champion to reach out to employers to dispel some of the negative stereotypes, the adult up-skilling system needs to be reviewed to optimise the potential of older workers to fill the skills gaps identified by employers.

These skills looked beyond learning basic IT functions and effectively using the internet and social media. With the right support, time and patience, older workers could take on advanced computing skills that could serve employers looking for people to fill IT positions. The silver coder might only be a job advert away.

*Name changed to protect privacy