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Supporting career prospects for older workers in the post-lockdown economy

Supporting career prospects for older workers in the post-lockdown economy

By Paul Naha-Biswas, CEO and founder of Sixley

Much has been said of the pandemic’s effect on unemployment for those starting out in their careers. And rightly so: almost two thirds of all UK workers made redundant since the start of the pandemic are under the age of 25.

However, there is also an alarming trend developing at the other end of the spectrum, with older workers disproportionately likely to have been furloughed, made redundant or even forced into early retirement. Recent ONS data indicates unemployment for the over-50s is at its highest since 2014, following a 50% rise during the second lockdown.

Age discrimination claims at employment tribunals have also risen to their highest level in three years, with the recent figures from HM Courts and Tribunals Service showing 1,608 claims between October and December 2020.

Worryingly, evidence from previous recessions also suggests this age group will struggle the most to find a new job even as the economy recovers, with re-employment rates far lower for the over-50s than for any other group pre-COVID. Given the ever-increasing retirement age, this has concerning implications for long-term unemployment and the financial burden that this brings.

The growing generational skills gap

Whether or not you are in favour of a digital-first workforce, the pandemic has accelerated the transition to a digital-first economy. What was previously seen as a growing but steady economic trend pre-COVID, suddenly became a necessity as remote working and online shopping became the default options. And it seems unlikely that the vaccine rollout alone will close the lid on Pandora’s box.

The pandemic has helped to create new employment opportunities in certain sectors such as healthcare, programming, data analysis, digital marketing and operations, and it is clear that digital transformation is here to stay. Yet others have sadly been left behind by the rapid pace of change. This has affected lower skilled work, but also mid-to-higher level jobs across a wide range of sectors, such as advertising sales, legal sector roles, book-keeping and accounting, recruitment, retail banking and more.

For younger workers at the start of their careers and born into a greater level of tech literacy, redirecting their careers towards thriving sectors could arguably be easier than older workers. Over-50s often tend to have established careers in specific sectors, making career mobility or switches to new sectors a challenge – especially when there is a largely digital element involved. This creates a generational skills gap that, if not addressed, could lead to older workers being left on the COVID scrapheap. This risks burdening the economy with greater unemployment, increased debts and poverty, more workers entering early retirement and a lack of confidence among the older workforce.

So, as the lockdown restrictions ease and the economy begins its recovery – growing 0.4% in February – what can be done to protect and enhance career prospects for older workers?

Paul Naha-Biswas

Paul Naha-Biswas

Closing the chasm

With digital and technology driving rapid change, it is imperative that we build flexibility and adaptability into our workforce to ensure that people can work through till retirement with confidence and security, all while positioning the UK as world leaders in emerging technologies and work practices.

The government and businesses have a responsibility to provide this support through effective retraining programmes which can help to upskill and reskill the workforce in substantive digital or new transferable skills. The training provided should be measurable, demonstrable, accreditable and accessible in order to achieve genuine and widespread change. This means improving the apprenticeship levy so that it works as an incentive rather than a burden for businesses hiring young people, and creating tax incentives to encourage training and employing older workers. For example, the government could introduce employer grants for employing over 50s and create tax-deductible training opportunities for businesses to offer staff.

Career advice for older workers

Understandably, older jobseekers may find the current labour market an intimidating place, especially given unemployment is expected to peak at 6.5% at the end of this year after the furlough scheme ends, according to forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Tailoring CVs for specific roles and identifying transferrable skills can help to widen the net. For example, there are similarities between a maths teacher and a data analyst, with both requiring excellent mathematical skills. Additionally, jobseekers can also enhance their CVs by learning new skills. For example, those who regularly use Excel and PowerPoint, could consider learning how to use new, complimentary data platforms such as Airtable, Tableau and Canva.

Additionally, depending on the jobseeker’s specialist sector, they can consider setting themselves up as a self-employed consultant- a great way to demonstrate initiative to potential employers. And that short-term role could very quickly become permanent.

Searching for a job under the current conditions is a challenge even for those with years of professional experience to their name. Jobseekers must use every tool available to them to get themselves noticed in a competitive market, and referrals are a great way to do that. An endorsement from a friend or family can give jobseekers a confidence boost and recommendations have also been proven to increase the likelihood of securing a role – by up to 20 times the rate of those using recruiters. This vote of confidence could be crucial to helping older workers find their feet in a new and intimidating jobs market, especially at a time when they may be doubting their skills after being made redundant or put on furlough.

A new post-lockdown economy is now in sight, and it’s crucial that the government and businesses don’t leave older workers behind as we head towards 2022 and beyond. By supporting individuals’ professional transitions and progression, there is scope to make real change – both for the workers themselves, and society as a whole.

Global Banking & Finance Review


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