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Employment and training

Upskilling and reskilling older workers

A mature woman wearing glasses browses the internet using a laptop.

Last week, we invited a panel of speakers, including Microsoft, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Salesforce, GXO, and Jobs 22 to discuss the importance of upskilling and reskilling older workers and those returning to the job market after a career break. We also heard from several older people on the webinar who shared the challenges they’ve faced as an older worker.

Our Policy and Communications Manager, Milly Harrison, summarises the event below.

What’s the scale of the problem?

Catch22 run employability programmes that support people into long term, sustainable careers. We, along with many others, are growing increasingly concerned with the number of older people who are unemployed and economically inactive.

Today, there are 19,000 more people aged 50-64 unemployed and 228,000 more economically inactive than there were pre-pandemic according to the Centre For Ageing Better. This picture gets worse when you factor in older people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who are more likely to leave the labour market because of their own ill health.

“I’ve had one interview in seven months…as soon as [they] saw me they dismissed me with their eyes…the interview lasted 10 minutes”

– Participant, Catch22

What are the key challenges older people and people returning to work are facing when looking for employment?

  • Lack of targeted support for older people. Our Catch22 Employability Manager, Kimberley Owen, spoke about how older people might not believe they are eligible for certain programmes because of their age, e.g. apprenticeships are normally marketed at the 16-24 age group. This often leaves the older people accessing employability support feeling unsure about whether there is a training course that will be right for them.
  • Not enough flexibility from employers to fit around different commitments, for example not being able to sign up for night shifts, or 12 hour shifts, or needing the flexibility to fit work around childcare. Women aged 50-64 are much more likely than men to work part-time: seven times more men aged 50-64 work full-time than part-time, compared with 1.4 times more women. One in four older women workers are ineligible for automatic workplace pension enrolment because they work part-time. This makes women particularly vulnerable to financial hardship in later life.

“A lot of the challenges come from child care, fitting into the school run…and employers being flexible enough for me to do that.”

– Participant, Catch22

  • Lack of training opportunities. Lack of digital skills came up as a barrier during the discussion in our webinar. A study by the City & Guilds Group found that in the past five years only 53% of people aged 55 and over have taken part in formal workplace training, compared to 67% of 35-54 year olds and 83% of 18-34 year olds.
  • Discrimination in initial applications that prevent someone from securing an interview. Our panellists spoke about their experiences of feeling discriminated against because of their age when going through the recruitment process. A survey by YouGov revealed that employees awareness of age (69%) as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act was significantly lower than other characteristics such as disability (80%), gender (75%) or race (79%).

What do our panel recommend?

  • A clear package of support from employers: our panellist from GXO spoke about the work they do to support older workers, for example they have set up mentoring circles for  people in the company who are of a similar age, to offer peer support. This will help retain staff and evidences to job seekers that staff wellbeing is prioritised in your company.
  • Clear pathways to training courses that are relevant to careers in growing industries. Our partners, Salesforce, spoke about their training programmes and how these are tailored to provide training opportunities that are accessible for people of all abilities. Our partners, Microsoft, highlighted the importance of making sure that older workers have digital access and the opportunity to develop their digital skills as part of this.
  • Embrace flexible working where possible. Particularly when recruiting staff with health conditions and childcare commitments. Workers who offer flexible working policies are part of their employment often see better engagement and commitment from their staff.
  • Tackling unconscious bias in the recruitment process. The panel spoke about the importance of removing parts of the application process that ask for details on a candidates age. Tony Hyland from the Department for Work and Pensions spoke about their commitments to support older workers into employment, and the benefits of getting employers and hiring teams to come into Job Centres to talk to older people about the opportunities on offer and how this breaks down preconceptions about the abilities of older people searching for work, and how often their skills are transferable to vacancies on offer.

Looking forward: the benefits of hiring older workers

Experience, knowledge, confidence, worldly awareness and reliability are some of the qualities our audience shared when we asked what they believe the benefits are to business for hiring older people.

“I’m honest, hardworking and able to put in the hours.”

– Participant, Catch22

We heard from several older people on the webinar who shared the challenges they’ve faced as an older worker. Jean Davies, a long-standing member of staff at Catch22, reached out to us after the event to give her perspective on being an older person in the workplace:

“[It can be] very scary for an older person to attend an interview when you have never had to in over 20 years, one that might also involve all sorts of tests. So, where a young person believes they might struggle in our world today, I believe some older people might struggle more.”

Keep looking out for more content as we continue to explore the growing numbers of older people who are not in work, and what more we can be doing to make sure everyone feels supported to find long-term, sustainable employment.