EU Governments urged to maximise the potential of older workers

EU Governments urged to maximise the potential of older workers

The rise in the number of older workers in the UK has been well documented, and the reason is clear, they are a much needed resource. Over the next ten years there are 13.5 million job vacancies which need to be filled, but only seven million young people predicted to join the job market in that time. And the UK is not alone; the EU faces significant skills gaps due to demographic change. But according to a new International Longevity Centre –UK (ILC-UK) report, Working Longer: An EU perspective, supported by Prudential, EU countries urgently need to skill up the older workforce, support more older women in work and address the particular health issues associated with employing older workers.

The report, which was launched at a debate in London yesterday, reveals that across Europe, incentives to retire early have gradually been removed, whilst state pension ages have begun to increase. But some incentives for early retirement remain across EU Member States. It also warns that Government initiatives to support older workers are often poorly evaluated for effectiveness. As a result it is difficult to “learn from the best”.

After analysing the situation across the EU-28, the report explores seven challenges for the EU and Member States:

  • Achieving gender equality. In every EU Member State, the life expectancy of women is higher than that of men, by 5.9 years on average. Yet despite living longer across the EU, women participate less in the labour market and retire earlier.
  • Skilling up the older workforce. The current cohort of older workers in Europe have low levels of education and qualifications compared to younger groups.
  • Supporting older people in the recession. Across Europe, a relatively high proportion of unemployed 55-64 year olds have not worked for 12 months or more.
  • Matching demand and supply in the labour market. There has been inadequate focus on the extent to which Europe’s economy has been creating the right sort of jobs to meet the needs and wishes of the supply of older workers.
  • Tackling ageism. Negative attitudes towards older workers remain a significant cultural barrier across Europe.
  • Improving health. One of the biggest challenges facing the working longer agenda is poor health of older workers. However, our analysis has found relatively few initiatives by governments or employers to explicitly improve the health of older workers.
  • Recognising the diversity of the working experience. Policymakers need to take into account the fact that older workers across Europe are more likely than other ages to be self-employed, on open-ended contracts, or working part-time.

David Sinclair, Assistant Director of Policy and Communications at ILC-UK said: “Europe’s economy is driven by the skills and talents of its people. As our society ages, it will therefore be increasingly important to make the most of the potential of older workers. Yet few European Governments have got to grips with the challenges of an older workforce.”

He added: “We must not however, pitch one generation against another. European policymakers must focus on tackling the barriers employability across the life course. Flexible working and opportunities for people of all ages to develop their skills are vital. We must tackle ageism whilst also offering older people the opportunity to retire gradually. Governments across Europe must better evaluate initiatives and share their successes with their colleagues”.