Work experience — no longer the preserve of the young?

Alistair McQueen, Head of Savings & Retirement at Aviva

New official figures released by the UK Government (30 August 2017) provide yet more evidence that we’re witnessing the rise and rise of the older worker.

In my view, this is to be celebrated, and supported, as we all adjust to what increased life expectancy means for us as individuals and our societies.

Perhaps one of the most surprising trends is the boom in work experience among workers over the age of 50.

The increase in people using a UK government-sponsored scheme of work experience has been greatest among those aged 50 and over. This scheme partners employers with jobseekers to offer a work experience placement lasting up to eight weeks.

It was introduced in 2011 and was initially seen as a means of helping young people find work. At first this proved to be the case, but since 2016 it has been those aged 25 and over that have been the majority of users. In the latest month, one-in-five are over the age of 50. This is up from one-in-a-100 in 2011.

A record 10 million workers over the age of 50

Since launch in 2011, the number of over-50s using the scheme has risen 65-fold, benefitting 1,300 over-50s in the latest month. This is a greater growth than in any other age group. More over-50s have started using the scheme since January 2016 than over the preceding five years combined. 57,000 over-50s have now used the scheme.

Today’s boom in older workers taking up work experience coincides with the number of over-50s in work hitting an all-time high. Nearly ten million workers in the UK are now aged over 50, equating to nearly one-in-three of all employees. Twenty years ago, in 1997, it was nearer five million.

The need to support older workers

The UK government recently announced that it will accelerate the state pension age towards 68 for many people now in their 40s. The long-standing UK state pension ages of 60 for women and 65 for men were set in the 1940s when life expectancy was a fraction of what it is today. In 1940, a 65-year-old Brit could expect to live for another ten years. Today, it is more likely to be twenty years. An increase in the state pension age therefore came as a surprise to few.

With a longer working life comes the need to help workers adjust and adapt. Work experience — for all ages — can be one powerful support. As another example, Aviva is piloting mid-life career reviews for those in their 50s. We recognise older employees bring valuable experience to the workforce and have much to give — and we want to support all those who do.

Our longer lives are to be celebrated. For most of us, an inevitable consequence of this is a longer working life. Aviva wants, and Britain needs, this older population of workers to thrive. Age must be no barrier to our ability to contribute.

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