How employers can benefit from employing older workers

Data reveals the Liverpool city region lags behind much of the UK when it comes to taking on 50 to 64-year-olds

Older works can be an asset in the workplace if only more employers were prepared to give them the opportunity

Merseyside’s local authority areas have some of the worst rates of employment of older workers in Britain.

According to a recently published table, the proportion of 50 to 64-year-olds in employment in Liverpool is 55.7%, ranking it a lowly 362nd out of the 378 local authority areas in the study.

All of Merseyside’s other local authority areas also appear in the bottom third of the table published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Older workers in St Helens and Knowsley don’t fare much better than Liverpool, with only 57.7% and 58.6% respectively in work. Wirral’s rate is 63.3% with Halton’s just behind at 63.1%, while even Sefton, Merseyside’s best performing local authority, has a rate of just 66%, placing it 241st, just above the bottom third of the table.

The region’s performance contrasts sharply with some other areas of the country where the employment rate for older people is much higher. The top of the table is dominated by local authorities in the South East of England with first place going to Watford with an older people employment rate of 89.5%. The UK average was 68.5%.

The DWP published the table as part of a Government drive to encourage poor performing regions to fill the country’s growing number of job vacancies by employing older age groups.

The Government figures suggest that there is plenty of scope for firms to tap into this segment of the market. There are around 2.9m people aged between 50 and state pension age out of work. Around 40.8% of over-50s on Jobseeker’s Allowance have been claiming for 12 months or more, substantially higher than the overall rate of 30.2%. Over half have already stopped working before they reach state pension age.

It’s not just employers who would benefit. With life expectancy rising, helping the over-50s to stay in and get back into work also has a key role to play in enhancing people’s standard of living in retirement.

By working one year longer, an average earner could boost their pension pot by around £4,500, in addition to earning an extra year’s salary. Conversely, a worker retiring 10 years early could see their pension pot shrink by a third.

Research conducted by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research also shows the wider economic benefit of everyone working one year longer, saying the UK’s GDP would increase by 1% (equivalent to £16bn).

Campaigners say demographic changes present major opportunities for employers to harness the benefits of recruiting older staff, but also pose a serious threat to businesses which continue to believe they can rely solely on a young workforce.

In the next 10 years, there will be 700,000 fewer people aged 16 to 49 in the UK labour market but 3.7m more aged between 50 and state pension age.

Chris Ball, chief executive of The Age and Employment Network
Chris Ball, chief executive of The Age and Employment Network

According to Chris Ball, chief executive of The Age and Employment Network (TAEN), factors that could contribute to the city region’s poor performance include old fashioned attitudes that cause some employers to think older people have poor IT skills and are less adaptable. Other factors include wear and tear on industrial workers and poor health. Mr Ball, 69, will be attending an older worker’s fringe event at next week’s Trade Union Congress in Liverpool.

He told ECHO Business it was time to scotch the stereotypes, saying: “I didn’t learn to type till I was 50, now I type at 40 odd words a minute and use all sorts of software programmes. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

“There are employers who do discriminate. They operate on the basis of stereotypes. Stereotypes are the lazy man’s way of sorting people. They are invalid.”

Another invalid argument that TAEN seeks to challenge is the idea that it’s just the young who deserve a chance to find a job.

Mr Ball said: “People are beginning to see through that argument. It is economically illiterate: it’s the lump of labour fallacy.

“The idea that there is a fixed quantum of jobs in the economy is wrong – it just doesn’t work that way. If more older people are in work they create more jobs for others.

“We also need to think creatively about inter-generational knowledge to prevent organisational ageing when, for one reason or another, firms are not introducing new approaches or passing on knowledge acquired over the years which often disappears when key individuals leave the organisation.”

Another contributory factor is that older people are less prepared to put up with tedium. He said: “A lot of jobs are dull, boring, routine and repetitive. People feel entitled to retire from these jobs and can’t wait for it when they get to a certain age.”

Dr Ros Altmann, the Government’s recently appointed business champion for older workers, said: “Older workers have a huge amount to offer any workforce. They generally have unrivalled life and work experience, often boast a broad range of skills and, according to many employers I’ve spoken to, tend to display great attitude and work ethic.

“We need to get rid of the traditional stereotype which suggests that people over 50 are too old to learn or change and are expected not to work, even if they want to. There can be a world of opportunities for older workers which can enrich their lives and also boost our economy.”

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