April 20, 2011

UK: "Starting a career at 60 is possible - I did!"

LONDON / The Financial Times / Management / Recruitment / April 20, 2011

There is much to learn as the workforce grows older

By Chris Ball
Chief Executive  
The Age and Employment Network

Do employers want older workers?

Yes and no. Some employers see the qualities of older people but they don’t look for them when they advertise and may be reluctant to recruit an older person. Others are more open-minded but don’t let anyone know. And others believe they must have new blood and that older workers have to step aside. They are all going to need older workers, however, as the generation coming behind the retiring baby boomers is less numerous.

Can they be forced to keep them?

With the abolition of the default retirement age it will become very expensive to fire someone just because of their age. This is a good thing because a lot of talent is wasted when people are forced out because of their birth dates. Having said that, UK employment law does not “force” employers to employ anyone, so strictly speaking the answer is no.

Can they be forced to hire older people?

Again, in strict terms no. But an important change is taking place – employers can no longer refuse to consider applicants within six months of the default retirement age and, if there is evidence that the organisation is operating a blanket ban on recruits above a certain age, this will cost money.

Are they really going to be looking for 60-year-old recruits?

In some cases, why not? If you know the skills and background you need, you might find a 60-year-old is the best candidate. But let’s not kid ourselves – it is going to take a cultural leap.

How can older people make themselves attractive to employers?

Don’t be hung up on age, be modest, modern, passionate about the things you know matter to the business and the role, be sensible in making applications (blanket e-mails to a million employers are a really bad idea) and be and look fit and active if you can. Be on top of the IT you will need, get advice to tailor your CV, do your research and make sure your track record, competencies and contacts speak for themselves.

Is starting a career possible at 60?

Absolutely – I did! You have to build on what you have done and use all your interests and attributes for your next step in life.

What sorts of roles fit best?

Anything where you can use your experience, soft skills and in depth knowledge. Obviously teaching and mentoring can be good but we shouldn’t be prescriptive. I know of a former airline pilot in the US who trained and entered the police force at the age of 63.

Do people of that age really want to work longer?

Many do. For some people their work is their life. Others need the money and there are many other reasons people want to carry on, including social contact and routine. Each story is different.

How can a “gradual exit” from work be achieved?

There are plenty of ways if the employer has a good attitude to flexible working. There is nothing to prevent anyone putting forward a request to their employer: asking for a flexible approach to work is the first step towards a sensible step down approach.

What do older workers bring to a workforce?

They can have valuable experience in how the job can be done, how to go about solving difficult issues, dealing with difficult people and so on. Many employers tell me that having older people in a team provides a moderating influence on younger workers. Researchers looking at McDonald’s restaurants found that customers were more satisfied where older workers were in the team.

Are they keeping younger workers out of a job?

The latest OECD report gives the answer to this – no.

Older people being in work generates economic demand and makes it more likely that younger workers will get jobs. They don’t often do the same jobs anyway and 45 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women over 65 and in work are self-employed anyway.

Is there a growing inter-generational conflict?

I don’t really see it. I don’t think younger people blame older people for the fact that they can’t get jobs or will have to pay more for their pensions, they blame the government.

Do managers need skills in managing mixed generational workforces, however?

Yes, they do – including younger managers needing to be shown how to manage people who are older than themselves.

.Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.