New Middle Age calls for new, flexible and effective workplaces where the potential contribution and economic productivity of those aged from 50 to retirement is fully realised, to the advantage of both employers and economy.
A new deal at work
The 50 to retirement generation is highly productive and highly skilled, as evidenced by current research, and their contribution will be essential to meeting future labour demand. But with one in three outside the workforce, more should be done to create jobs they want to do. A new deal at work is needed to get as many of them as possible back into work.
- Better job design could create jobs that better suit more over 50s in work, especially those considering early exit from the labour market and those already outside the workforce. A variety of strategies could create jobs good for both employers and employees such as flexible working, reduced or annualised hours, remote working, job sharing and phased retirement.
- Flexible work needs to provide real flexibility for employees across the workforce, at all ages, but at the same time ensure that jobs remain effective for employers. It should also be remembered that the need for flexibility may be temporary, as in the case of carers making adjustments to care arrangements as circumstances change.
- In-work training should be available to the 50 to retirement workforce to support their continued development and help them achieve their potential.
- Simple innovations might encourage longer participation in the workforce. A model to calculate the financial implications of remaining in or returning to work, not working or taking early retirement might deter early workforce exit. Employer schemes to maintain links with previous employees could encourage interested early workforce leavers to return with enhanced job-readiness.
- New statistical data series, reports and government sponsored research would provide additional evidence of the contribution and requirements of the 50 to retirement workforce and, if supported by appropriate media output, enhance the image of New Middle Age.
- Workforce participation can be encouraged by appropriate regimes for taxation, National Insurance and pensions.
Support for those outside the workforce to return
Even with a newly shaped workplace, there will be those who find that work is not possible given their personal circumstances, and a career break, sometimes prolonged, is necessary. It is essential to provide effective back to work support to allow a return to work when ready and ensure opportunities are commensurate with skill levels and potential.
- Returner programmes help workforce re-entry and more employers should be encouraged to offer them. The focus is on providing relatively short-term in-work programmes designed to re-hone skills and competencies. They can be offered by a previous employer or one in a related field. Current programmes often offer the prospect of continued employment. While these programmes should not be age restricted, people in New Middle Age who had taken a career break, say to care for an older relative, would be significant beneficiaries.
- Frameworks to keep economically inactive people closer to the workplace enhance job-readiness when they are ready to return. Professional networks, alumni programmes, distance learning methods and modular continuing education opportunities would all be effective. The aim would be to keep skills fresh, knowledge and competencies up to date, and allow gaps in a CV to be filled with appropriate, recognised qualifications.
- Job search and back to work support should be available for all aged 50 to retirement, but free to those on benefits. Programme providers might include Jobcentre Plus, adult education centres, charities or employer and employee bodies.
- People in New Middle Age need to be able to move between jobs, find employment after redundancy or return after a break. Recruitment agencies and HR departments need to understand the workplace value of the 50 to retirement generation to ensure inappropriate preference is not given to younger candidates. Positive measures might include guaranteed interviews for those meeting minimum criteria.
Expanded later life professional education
Later life educational opportunities are needed to refresh and update skills of those who have been outside the workforce, for shorter or extended periods. They would also allow people who have elected to down-skill, perhaps due to personal circumstances, to get careers back on track when they are ready, making sure they are can work to their potential.
- The aim should be to allow people to move out of, and back into work without loss of career traction or down-skilling. Training would re-establish an employee’s potential. Working below potential results in loss of productive output and a reduction in personal income.
- Programmes should be designed to refresh and sharpen up knowledge, skills and competencies with a focus on employer requirements.
- Modular courses would provide for training tailored to specific needs, perhaps to fill gaps in a CV. But longer courses might also be required for those seeking a broader re-training or a career change. All courses would provide recognised and accredited qualifications.
- Learning could be classroom based, but it is expected there would be significant demand for remote, distance learning options. Programmes might be offered by professional bodies, other employee representative groups, and tertiary or further education institutions. There are also a growing number of commercial professional development platforms which might already offer, or be able to develop, appropriate courses.