Skip to navigation
Older Workers: Increasing employment opportunities to tackle shrinking workforces Older Workers: Increasing employment opportunities to tackle shrinking workforces

Active Aging

The latest global figures for life expectancy make startling reading.The number of people aged 60 years or over is expected to increase from 841 million in 2013 to more than 2 billion by 2050. Whilst longevity can be a good thing, population ageing has potentially major social and economic consequences. Illness and disability are more common in older people. With the number of working-age adults per older person decreasing, who is going to pay the taxes to fund education, health and social services?

‘Super ageing’ populations are a particular challenge in East Asia. China’s workforce is shrinking by a million people a year. In Japan, 40% of the population will be over 65 by 2050 and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare estimates that a million nurses and care workers will be needed to support them.

Recognising that this is not a challenge that can be ignored, governments and employers are devising increasingly effective approaches to help older people stay in work longer and to encourage other disadvantaged groups into the world of work to increase the wider employment rate.

In the UK, the Greater Manchester Authority’s Working Well initiative shows what can be achieved. Launched in 2014, the programme is helping long-term unemployed individuals with disabilities or facing illness into sustainable employment. To minimise the sort of silo working that often crimps cross-body coordination, Ingeus is working across a number of specialist services using a team of Key Workers and Health Professionals. This is helping participants break down the often numerous barriers that might hold them back by joining up the dots between employability, skills, health, housing, and wellbeing. Acknowledging that the journey back to work can be long and complex the programme provides support to both individuals and their families for up to two years.

As workforces age, employers are increasingly seeing the value of older workers. BMW decided to accommodate its aging workforce by adapting their workplace. This included bringing in specially designed ergonomic chairs and new magnifying lenses to reduce eyestrain and minimise sorting errors. Whilst these measures have not been without cost, BMW saw productivity increase by 7% in one year, making older workers as productive as their younger colleagues An important plank of Ingeus Germany’s Munich Kompaqt Programme, which supported over 50’s back to work, involved changing employer perceptions about older workers. The example of BMW provides the sort of powerful business case that can open the eyes of other employers.

The World Health Organisation has said that more specific Active Ageing programmes will increasingly be needed to enable older people to continue to work according to their capacities and preferences. Keeping older people active in workforces is also seen as a good way of helping prevent ill-health and disability that are costly to individuals, families and health care systems.

Population Ageing will increasingly dominate public policy agendas over the coming years. Breaking down silos to link employability, skills, health and wider wellbeing can deliver the kind of win-win for individuals and wider society.