Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The population and workforce is aging. What are we going to do about it?

An infrequent look into Google+ this afternoon brought up a post by Dick Stroud commenting on the increase of UK workers over the age of 50. Our population is aging and the proportion of older men and women working is also increasing. We're also living longer and our pensions don't kick in until we're older (assuming you have one at all - can't see the gig economy being big on pensions).

Here's a summary from a UK Government report from November 2015
  • Employment of workers over the age of 50 has grown significantly over the past decades.  
  • The employment rate for people aged 50 to 64 has grown from 55.4 to 69.6 per cent over the past 30 years, an increase of 14.2 percentage points. 
  • The employment rate for people aged 65 and over has doubled over the past 30 years, from 4.9 to 10.2 per cent, an increase of 5.3 percentage points. 
  • The largest increases in employment rates over the last 30 years were for two groups: for women aged 60-64 the rate grew from 17.7 to 40.7 per cent; and for women aged 55-59 it grew from 48.6 to 68.9 per cent. 
  • The employment rate gap between men aged 50-64 and women of the same age dropped from close to 28 percentage points 30 years ago to 10.9 percentage points in 2015. 
  • The proportion of people aged 70-74 in employment almost doubled over the past 10 years (from 5.5 to 9.9 per cent), and numbers in employment more than doubled from 124,000 to 258,000. 
  • Part of the increase in the numbers of workers over 50 can be explained by demographic changes, but growth in employment rates shows that the number of people over 50 in employment has risen faster than the population over 50.

As I wander around the mobile marketing and advertising sector and big agency world, it's a young workforce. If you wander around the tech start-up scene, the workforce feels as young, if not younger, even if the founders are not young themselves.

I've seen from many of my peers from the early days of the mobile marketing industry that they are now becoming advisors, non-executive directors and mentors. I've done this myself and am always on the lookout for more of these opportunities. (Get in touch if you know of one!)

That's all well and good, but not everyone in the workforce ends up at the top of the pyramid. What about everyone else? What role is there for older workers in our mobile marketing world? Not that 50 is old, but to a 22 year old entrepreneur, that might feel very old indeed. And although ageist recruitment practices are illegal, they still happen all the time as those recruiting tend to recruit in their own image. It's human nature to an extent but also down to a lack of thought about actual requirements. And some good old-fashioned prejudice in some cases.

How do we find a balance between nurturing new talent whilst also benefitting from years of experience and keeping people gainfully employed through their whole career rather than relegating people to years on benefits or working hand to mouth? 

Is this a leadership task? Is this about changing the culture to be more inclusive? Is it rethinking assumptions about age and capability? Or is it a moot point in light of robots and AI taking our jobs and we get a Universal Basic Income instead?

If you ever want to see your assumption about age and capability be challenged, go see Glenda Jackson in King Lear at the Old Vic Theatre in London (I think it's returns only but you might get lucky). It's an incredibly challenging role and Glenda is magnificent in it, and absolutely at the top of her game. She celebrated her 80th birthday in May of this year. Yes, her 80th. I was gobsmacked when I realised that.  

I'm told that the generation gap in media doesn't really exist any more as we have access to the same media thanks to the likes of Facebook, Twitter et al. Can we make the same true of work opportunities?

So to the under 50s, especially if you are an entrepreneur or you recruit in the tech sector, what can you do to attract, retain, recruit and benefit from some older additions to your workforce?

And to the over 50s, especially the women over 50, don't give up on yourself! And don't give up on the chance to work in this vibrant, growing sector.

And yes, yes, I know that there are physical limitations as you get older. But you can have physical or mental limitations at 21 too. And, you know, tech can alleviate some of that.

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