Centre for Ageing Better
15 May 2020
Today, the government announced new plans for immigration after Brexit. Our Senior Evidence Manager Emily Andrews discusses its impact on employers – and how they can fill the skills gap.
In the plans for a post-Brexit immigration ‘points system’, published this morning, the government has sent a clear signal to employers that they will have to adapt to a world without cheap migrant labour.
Under the new system, only those earning more than £23,040 will gain any ‘points’ to support their immigration claim – with double points available to those earning £25,600 and above. There is a special scheme for agricultural workers, promises of a new initiative for NHS workers, and existing schemes that bring young Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders over temporarily remain in place.
But the paper is remarkable for the lack of special dispensations it offers to sectors facing labour shortages. Construction and social care will face particular challenges, if the plans go ahead as written.
Plugging these gaps will mean hanging on to the workforce that is already here.
Yes, the number of people age 50+ in the workforce has grown by 2.5 million in the last ten years alone – driven by a rising state pension age, a generational shift in women’s employment, and simple demographics. But the employment gap remains stubbornly high – employment rates stand at 73% for people aged 50 to 64, compared with 86% for 35 to 69 year-olds. People start dropping out of the labour market at 55 – because of health conditions, caring responsibilities, or because they simply want to retire.
Once the government’s new immigration plans are in place, employers will need to make sure their jobs are more accessible and desirable in order to keep such people in the labour force.
Our guide to becoming an age-friendly employer sets out the five actions employer needs to take to retain and make the most of an ageing workforce. They include supporting employees managing health conditions and caring responsibilities, and offering training and development to employees of all ages.
At Ageing Better, we are working to further refine the guidance we have for employers, and test whether they work. We are working with Timewise, Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Trust and Legal & General to test out how to support line managers to offer 50+ employees the kind of flexibility they want. We are also commissioning research to better understand exactly what barriers older workers face when applying for jobs – and what can be done to make sure recruitment practices are as inclusive as possible.
Knowledge exchange between generations can lift the performance of mixed-aged teams, and the often-lower turnover of older workers can bring a stability that allows the whole organisation to thrive.
There is lots of good practice already out there. One leading employer is Home Instead, a private home care company that goes out of its way to attract employees in mid- and later life. They promote the flexibility available to people who want part-time work at the latter stage of their career, and the richness of transferable skills that many years’ life experience can bring to a caring job.
More care providers will want to follow Home Instead’s example, as the workforce squeeze on the sector becomes more acute. But care providers will struggle to provide flexible and good-quality work if the current funding arrangements go unchanged, and local authorities are forced to further squeeze the rates they pay for care.
The Government’s strong message to employers – improve working conditions to maintain your workforce – applies to publicly-funded sectors as well.
The ageing of the workforce presents an opportunity for our economy. Knowledge exchange between generations can lift the performance of mixed-aged teams, and the often-lower turnover of older workers can bring a stability that allows the whole organisation to thrive. Active interventions to make the most of a multi-generation workforce – creating an age-friendly culture and inclusive work environment – can drive productivity improvements across a whole organisation.
But there are risks here too. The need for low-skilled labour cannot be allowed to stymie job progression, and trap people in low-paid work for life. For both financial security and health (at working age and in later life), it is crucial that everyone has access to good quality, fulfilling work at all life stages.
The benefits to our economy, and to individual employers, of longer working lives will not come automatically. If you are an employer who wants to learn and do more to make the most of your ageing workforce, the Centre for Ageing Better is keen to hear from you.