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Is now the time to start hiring older workers?

The devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the economy may have a silver lining for older workers’ job prospects.

In this guest blog Natasha Oppenheim, CEO of No Desire to Retire, explains the advantages companies have to gain from hiring older workers in the wake of this crisis. 

No Desire to Retire is dedicated to helping more over 50s find work, providing advice to job seekers and employers on the brilliance of a multigenerational workforce. During the COVID-19 lockdown, many members have contacted No Desire To Retire rightly concerned about their job prospects as older workers who have been labelled as ‘vulnerable’ and asked to isolate for longer. Many are worried that, going forward, employers will continue to see older people as ‘vulnerable’ and will therefore be less likely to employ them.

But while there will inevitably be substantial job losses across many different industries there is a potential silver lining in this redundancy cloud for older workers, whereby their talents might be better recognised and more in demand to help the UK’s economic recovery.

Evidence shows that older workers are less likely to be offered a job at interview stage, and once in a role, less likely to receive training opportunities.

First is the shift in skills that will be required to enable organisations to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. Faced with the challenging times ahead, employers will need people who have the experience to assess a situation quickly and efficiently, and who can provide the necessary support to meet the organisation’s needs. Someone who has faced crisis before and worked through different solutions is very attractive. Meanwhile, with learning and development budgets under pressure, older workers can also provide mentoring to younger colleagues, as well as on-the-job knowledge transfer and training. 

Second, it is generally accepted that remote working will be common practice post-pandemic. The removal of geographical limitations is an advantage for many older workers who would benefit from flexible working patterns. Remote working also widens the talent pool with people able to apply for jobs that aren’t in their immediate area and could go some way towards addressing unconscious bias older workers may experience in an office or interview setting.  Evidence shows that older workers are less likely to be offered a job at interview stage, and once in a role, less likely to receive training opportunities.  

Third, it is predicted that we will see a surge in the number of start-ups and SMEs in the coming months. Indeed, official figures from the US show more new businesses are being set up: 67,160 applications were filed to set up new companies in the last week of May.

Before the pandemic, there were an estimated 800,000 people aged between 50 and state pension age who are not working but would like to.

The SME sector – which ordinarily represents 99.9% of all businesses in the UK, contributes over half of the annual turnover to the UK economy, and accounts for around 58% of total UK job vacancies. Many small companies experience high levels of staff turnover especially in the early days when they’re establishing themselves. The resultant costs incurred in having to hire and train up new staff members can result in a significant hit to cashflow – not to mention the related (disruptive) demands on internal time and resources.

Research shows that older workers are more committed and loyal, so recruiting older workers can provide continuity and stability for an organisation, while also offering a lifetime’s worth of experience and expertise to support both the leadership and the wider team.

Before the pandemic, there were an estimated 800,000 people aged between 50 and state pension age who are not working but would like to. As each industry adapts to their new normal, increasing the number of older workers makes not just cultural sense but, crucially, delivers commercial benefits. Creating good jobs and supporting the ageing workforce are an integral part of ensuring the future recovery, and ultimately success of the UK economy and society more widely.

Ageing Better's response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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