Businesses are missing out on valuable skills and experience from a failing labour market not recognising older workers ambition and potential, warns academics from Newcastle University.

Academics are calling for business groups and the Government to work together to ensure resources are available to older workers looking for new jobs and that the business environment supports the ageing workforce.

Dr Matt Flynn, director of the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce at Newcastle University Business School, comments:

“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 job seekers aged 50+ who have been out of work for over a year. 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 job seekers to get back into work, learn new things and apply their skills and experiences to new challenges.”

In a briefing note published by the University’s Institute for Ageing, it highlighted a number of concerns about policy that impacts the ageing workforce and provides a series of recommendations for government. These include:

  • Robustly tackle age discrimination by businesses and recruitment agencies.
  • Develop additional careers guidance services focused on older workers, promoting lifelong learning and providing advice and support on identifying transferable skills.
  • Focus support on sectors that can particularly benefit from older workers’ expertise, including cyclical sectors where previous experience can be a big advantage and the small business sector where firms often suffer from significant skills shortages.
  • Review the guidelines around flexible working to help businesses understand how to promote it to older workers and support those with caring responsibilities for elderly relatives as well as young children.
  • Create opportunities for businesses to seek and share best practice in their approach to older workers through their networks and supply chains.
  • Consider requiring firms bidding for Government contracts to demonstrate that they are meeting best practice criteria in their approach to older workers.

Professor Louise Robinson, director of the Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and professor of Primary Care and Ageing, says:

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