Ageist Sidelining of Older Workers a "Criminal Waste"

A new survey has found that 56 per cent of employers do not look to recruit workers aged over 50, despite two-thirds agreeing that older workers make an important contribution to their businesses.

A total of 500 UK business leaders were questioned for a YouGov poll, carried out as part of the Astellas Innovation Debate on ageing at London’s Royal Institution, taking place today, Tuesday 19th November.

Responding to the survey’s findings, Professor Tom Kirkwood, Associate Dean for Ageing at Newcastle University, and one of the debate’s panellists, said the over-50s were being sidelined in a “criminal waste” of knowledge and expertise through ageism.

“There is real value in retaining the rich skills and experiences of older workers but few businesses have yet caught on to the real potential of this population”, he said.

“Creating jobs for young people is of course also essential but the reality is that we face a stark skills gap, as the baby boomers approach retirement at a rate faster that they can be replaced. Older workers have huge mental capital which all too often gets wasted. Those businesses that get this right will be the ones most likely to create the growth that will benefit everyone, whether old already of just seeking to enter the workforce.”

Forty per cent of survey respondents said that people aged 50 and over accounted for a quarter of their workforce and up to 81 per cent were concerned that skills would be lost through older workers retiring, yet just 19 per cent thought maintaining an older workforce was a business priority. Even more worryingly, just 12 per cent invested in any sort of targeted training for older staff and a mere 4 per cent had designed workplaces to make them more suitable for older workers.

Despite the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 which makes age discrimination against employees, jobseekers and trainees unlawful, 67 per cent of employers said they rarely employed people aged over 50 even though half said they regularly received job applications from older candidates. Six out of 10 employers admitted to having no strategies in place to encourage the employment of over 50s.

The over-65s contribute more than £65 billion to the economy and this figure could be much higher, said Professor Kirkwood. He added; “I am issuing a wake-up call to government and society as a whole to start taking this problem seriously.

“Employers need to start realising that by embracing the mental capital of the ageing workforce, businesses can grow and even flourish which in turn will strengthen our economy and continue to ensure the social care needs of our greying futures are met adequately.”

Professor Kirkwood was backed by fellow panellist, Baroness Sally Greengross, Chief Executive of the UK International Longevity Centre.

Baroness Greengross added, “If we don’t change our employment practice, industry will face a skills gap: this is inevitable. There is also significant denial around the implications and consequences of our rapidly ageing population in businesses and within our society as a whole.

“Most industry leaders clearly recognise most people over 60 - and even 65 - are fit enough to be active members of society, whether that’s as paid workers, volunteers, or carers. We need to change our attitudes and to stop defining age by the number of birthday candles we have on a cake.”

It is predicted that UK employers will need to fill an estimated 13.5 million job vacancies over the next ten years, but only 7 million young people will leave education during this time and the shortfall cannot be made up by immigration alone, meaning employers will need to increasingly rely on older workers to fill these gaps.

TAEN has launched a petition calling for an end to age discrimination in recruitment. To add your name to the petition click here