Widespread calls for more support to help older people thrive in the workplace
A spotlight on employment and older people – Senedd Cymru, Cardiff, 31 January 2023
Photograph: Economy Minister Vaughan Gething MS speaking at the event
The need to support older people wishing to return to, or remain in, the workplace to take full advantage of their skills, talents, and knowledge was the underlying message of speakers at a recent event focusing on employment and older people.
Held at Senedd Cymru, Cardiff Bay, the event heard that older people often face barriers to accessing and staying in employment such as the lack of flexible working options given the right support, older people can thrive in the workplace.
Speakers agreed the cost-of-living crisis makes it more important than ever that we enable older people to flourish in the workplace so they can become more financially resilient and develop a more financially secure retirement.
The event heard that older workers could play a significant part in addressing some of the skill shortages in several key industries such as logistics, hospitality, retail and the health and social care sectors, and thereby help the economy to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said “As part of our Economic Mission, we’re using the levers we have to narrow the skills divide, support better jobs and tackle poverty. Our Plan for Employability and Skills prioritises people most in need of help. This includes supporting older people to stay in work and those further away from the labour market to find employment.
“Supporting older workers to stay in work offers employers a rich source of talent and provides a catalyst for a more inclusive workplace overall. That’s why we fund a range of initiatives to support older people to do just that – from programmes to help them retrain and develop new skills, to support with overcoming poor health.
“We’re doing all we can to support employers to improve how they attract, manage and develop people as they age. This is particularly needed against a backdrop of technological change. To help, we have expanded the system of flexible and personal learning to develop adaptable skills to increase workforce resilience, and for everyone who needs help to progress, improve their skills, find new work or retrain.
Focusing on the human rights element of older workers Age Cymru chair Professor John Williams, stated that everyone has the right to work and to be treated fairly and with dignity, and not to be dismissed or marginalised in the workplace because of their age. He highlighted the positive attributes of older workers such as their loyalty, dependability and knowledge, and the need to move away from negative stereotypes such as older people being set in their ways or prone to sickness.
Professor Williams also said Brexit has left several key industries in the UK short of some 300,000 workers so it made no sense to waste the talents of older people at times like these.
Mike Hedges MS who chairs the Welsh Government’s Cross-Party Group on Older People and Ageing said we know that some older people are facing barriers to entering, and developing in, the workplace which is a waste of their talents, and their experiences and knowledge built up over many years.
Dr Martin Hyde Associate Professor in Gerontology at Swansea University argued that as governments at all levels seek to ‘build back better’ it is crucial that older workers are not left behind and that this requires an understanding of the labour market conditions of, and challenges faced by older workers.
Outlining the business case for becoming an age friendly employer Sue Husband OBE Director of Business in the Community (BITC) (Cymru), said that Wales’ population is growing older, and around a third of the workforce in Wales is now aged 50 and over, and employers need to tap into this valuable cohort if they want to succeed now and in the future.
Echoing the BITC view Glynis Scarico Senior HR Business Partner at Legal & General, an age inclusive employer, spoke about the importance of creating a workplace where we can all perform at our best no matter who we are. She said inclusivity is at the heart of this and age is no exception. While Vivienne Russell, Customer Service Manager also at Legal & General spoke about how she has benefitted personally from working for an age-friendly organisation.
Opening and closing the event, Age Cymru chief executive Victoria Lloyd said “We need to challenge ageist attitudes and work with organisations to help them remove any unnecessary barriers for older workers. We also want employers to understand the benefits that a mixed age workforce can bring to an organisation.”
The Next Steps
Age Cymru intends to build on this event and make sure that the issues preventing older people from making important contributions at work, for both themselves and the wider economy, become widely known and removed from the workplace. As a result, the charity will develop its work in this area by:
- Rolling out its programme of age awareness training across Wales to help ensure that employers, and their employees, are not using ageist practices that prevent older people from flourishing in the workplace.
- Continuing to work with BITC (Cymru) on the Age at Work programme to encourage people aged over 50 to carry out mid-career reviews and for employers to adopt the Age at Work toolkit.
- Campaigning to highlight the benefits that a mixed aged workforce can bring to employers and the wider economy.
- Encouraging people aged over 50 to seek support to re-enter the workplace.
- Highlighting the specific challenges facing older carers who wish to return to the workplace or increase their responsibilities at work.
- Launching its very own image library of older people living in Wales so that journalists, marketing professionals, and recruitment consultants can access images that are a genuine reflection of this older generation.