02 Aug

Engaging and empowering an older workforce

By Laura Childs 02nd Aug, 2023 Care Provider Leisure Rehabilitation

Hosted by David Heathcote, Innerva’s head of business development, our latest webinar discussed the need for more older people in the workforce with an expert panel comprising:

  • David Sinclair, CEO, International Longevity Centre UK
  • Colin Huffen, head of workforce policy & external affairs, CIMSPA
  • Helen Tite, MD, iCareiMove
  • Helen McGeechan Horton, account director, Love Recruitment

The panellists acknowledged the valuable experience and skills that older individuals bring to the workforce. Older people are passionate about the sector; they give up their time to volunteer at sport events, but the sector must adapt to provide more fulfilling and purposeful roles to attract older workers. Here are our key highlights:

Working longer makes financial sense

In the UK, people work for an average of 30 years, but this is not enough to support our ageing population, said David Sinclair of the International Longevity Centre UK. 

“We can’t sustain an 80- or 100-year life based on 30 years’ worth of work. If we can get everyone to just work a couple more years, it will make a huge difference to the economy and to individuals.” 

Why? Because working longer, even just one year, has significant benefits for our finances and our wellbeing, he says. 

“If you work a year longer, you save for one more year, you can build up more money and benefit from another year of compound interest. You start drawing down your pension later and you have your savings to last a year less. Those four things add up to a huge increase in retirement income. One year has this quadruple benefit really. And of course, we know that good work is good for us - having purpose and meaningful occupation is really good for us as we age.”

Valuing the lived experience

One of the key advantages of employing older people is the life experience they can offer.

A specialist in ageing in the workplace, Helen Tite of iCareiMove health consultancy said the lived experience is hugely valuable and can help employees connect with their customers. 

“As a midlife woman, I would far rather listen to a 64-year-old Pilates teacher who has had a hysterectomy and a knee replacement than a 24-year-old personal trainer who is still starting out on his journey at life.”

As the professional development body for the UK’s sport and physical activity sector, CIMSPA regularly engages with employers to assess their workforce requirements. 

“We’ve done hundreds of skills diagnostics with local employers to understand their wants and needs and were expecting them to say lifeguards, swimming teachers, personal trainers and fitness instructors,” explains Colin Huffen.

They didn’t. Instead employers said they want people who can engage with the community, communicate with customers and understand the health conditions clients may have. In short, many of the skills that older adults offer.

However, operators generally fail to include these skills in their job adverts, said Colin, instead focusing on technical qualifications like lifeguard and PT. This could be one of the reasons why the sector performs less well than other industries in recruiting older workers. Panellists agreed employers should concentrate on getting the right person through the door first and then teach the technical skills. 

Improving age-diversity

As a sector, we have become less diverse since Covid, says Colin. “Anecdotally, employers tell us they have been less focused on the types of people they can get into building, and more focused on getting people into the building to keep it operating.”

On average, 30 per cent of all jobs in the sector are held by 16-24 year old males, he says.

The age bias needs to go, said Helen McGeechan Horton from Love Recruitment citing research that found that just 42 per cent of hiring managers would look at somebody aged between 50 and 64.

Flexible working is key

The sector has to be more flexible to attract older workers, says McGeechan Horton.

“We’re not making all of the roles within our industry available to the older adults that might be interested to work but don’t want to commit full time to positions.”

The new Flexible Working Bill means that workers will be able to request flexible working from day one of a new job, but flexible working arrangements are just the tip of the iceberg. Many operators are put off employing older worker because it can more complicated. Older people are likely to have caring responsibilities or even medical conditions that need to be considered. It’s complicated, but doable, says Helen Tite.

She suggests we start to work with the midlife population first, those who will soon be moving into their 60s and 70s, and talk to them about their needs and how these can accommodated in the workforce.

Rethink training and education

The conversation delved into the importance of lifelong learning. As David Sinclair pointed out, older workers must continue with their professional development. 

“We know younger people take training opportunities and older people don't. So, there’s an element of we’re going to have to force people to keep doing the training into their 50s and 60s, even if they don’t want to.”

Helen Tite said the sector needs to rethink the delivery of training to provide better solutions for older adults and ensure they get the support they need.

The panellists welcomed the idea of older apprenticeships. Colin Huffen said apprenticeships are an untapped resource for the sector and more work is needed to take advantage of this opportunity. Currently, apprentices make up just 0.2 per cent of the sector’s workforce compared to 13-15 per cent in other industries, he said.

Recognition and reward

Financial reward is less important to older adults. To improve age diversity, employers must create meaningful occupations that provide purpose and value. Don’t obsess about why older workers don’t want to work for you, said David Sinclair, focus on the demand side instead,

“How do you create the jobs that people want to do? Think about it from the other point of view. If you do that, frankly, people will come and work for you.”

In our ageing society, encouraging people to work for longer benefits both individuals and society at large. But to attract older workers, the sector needs to recognise the value of their experience and skills, offer flexible work arrangements, provide tailored training and promote lifelong learning. By embracing an older workforce, employers will be able to leverage the wealth of talent and experience that older adults offer to better connect with their customers and open the doors to new audiences. 

To watch the webinar in full, please see the recording on our YouTube Channel.

For more information on any of the wonderful organisations who took part in the webinar please see their websites:

ILC UK (International Longevity Centre, UK)

I Care I Move


Love Recruitment