One small step for people over 50. One giant leap for UK employability.

October 18, 2023

Simon Long, Growth Director from 55/Redefined discusses jobs for those over 50. This demographic along with flexible work arrangements will help tackle UK labour market gaps. He shares survey data and explains why technology and AI will be instrumental. 

Simon Long, Growth Director at 55/Redefined

Welcome to “Employability Chats” Simon. Can you tell us about 55/Redefined and in particular the work you are doing around employability for those who are over 50?

Well, great to be here, Damien. What do we do at 55 Redefine? Great question. We are the only organisation in the world that focuses on the commercial impact of age, would you believe it? And we do that because we are living in a rapidly ageing population. We're going to see 2 billion more people aged over 50 by 2050. So we want to help organisations react to that, access the talent that the over 50s demographic represents, but also provide over 50s with access to age inclusive employers and job opportunities. And we do that through a Life Redefined platform, which is for consumers to engage with one another and follow and engage with content that they're interested in over 50. But also we do it through our Jobs Redefined and Work Redefined platform, which offers employers and candidates alike the chance to find work and to marry talent with opportunity.

We're growing, we've only been around a couple of years. We've got about 126,000 followers now who are actively engaged with our content on a daily basis. And we're getting up to 20,000 jobs now on our Jobs Redefined platform. So we're beginning to build a reasonable momentum. But we've only just started.

It’s always great to hear people share stories around their career journey. What’s been your path leading up to working with 55/Redefined now?  

Well, it's been a great path. I've been really lucky to experience all manner of different walks of work, as it were. I started in the corporate world in booze with Diageo. I then did the unthinkable, which was to mix booze with motorsport, booze with driving. I ended up, would you believe it, helping create the World Rally Championship and take that around the world. Then I moved into sports with tennis and then research, and I started my own company. 

So why have I ended up here? It's because, on a sad note, I had to close my company down during COVID - just couldn't get any business for a year. I was out of work, out of hope, out of luck, and I lost my way, I lost my mojo, I lost my purpose. And I really wondered if my life at the tender age of 55 had hit the buffers. So I did a rant on LinkedIn about ageism because the jobs I applied for I just didn't hear back from or told I was overqualified. And thankfully my CEO saw that and the rest is history.  I'm now helping people avoid the experiences that I went through.

55/Redefined did a recent study into the views and motivations of those working past 50. Can you share the highlights from those stats and what do they tell us? 

Right, well now you're testing me. Well, I mean, the subtext to this is that as I said at the start, we're living in a rapidly ageing world. Would you believe that? We're living 30 years longer on average than we did 100 years ago. But now if you're born today, you've got a one in two chance of living till you're 103. I mean, it's just staggering what's going on. The plate tectonics and demography is just moving by the day and there are ten and a half million people aged over 50 who are now in the UK workforce. 

So what are the stats? What the research told us (this was a survey of 4000 people) - 82% of our surveyed sample had not been contacted by a recruiter in the last twelve months, so somebody's missing a trick here. We learned that only 16% of over 50s are active on LinkedIn, and yet that is instinctively where recruiters go to hire talent. The over 50s aren't there. They're on Facebook. They're on Google. They're on Instagram. We also learned that 65% of those surveyed believed that their age is actively working against them when it comes to applying for jobs. And that tells us that the recruitment practices being used right now are not being sufficiently tailored to access the wealth of talent that exists in the over 50s. 

Other things that I would bring out are things like 63% would consider reskilling for a new job. And indeed the primary motivation for people over 50 isn't climbing the ladder anymore. It's not the size of the paycheck, it's not the title on the door, but it's flexibility. And that tells us that we know that people over 50 now, and particularly post COVID, are dealing with different motivations around work life balance. Some have retired but need to come back because of the cost of living crisis. Others have retired and got bored because they've got another 30, 40 years to go or they've fallen foul of redundancy programs and furloughs. So it's a bit of a perfect storm is what we learned through the research.


There is a current UK government focus on wanting to fill labour market gaps with those who are 50. What does the government, the employability sector and companies with gaps need to do to tap into this opportunity? 

It's a really good question. Let me try and think about this. Well, a number of things. Firstly, it's great news that the government recognised this and that public and private sector employers do. It needs to happen because there is a chronic shortfall of talent and there are frankly more jobs available than there are people looking for work. So it's a good time for this to be happening. 

I think you have to start with policy - the DWP and the like need to look at how incentives can be put in place to really motivate employers to actively go out and recruit people over the age of 50. Incentives could also be put in place for we over 50s anyway in the form of potentially tax efficient ways of ensuring that it's not counterproductive for us to go back into work if we're already drawing down on a pension. There needs to be a way that the formula works for everybody. I think skills training and upskilling is really important. So again, the DWP are introducing things like Midlife MOTS that's really interesting. 

We are working with our clients around specifically tailored training to help people get back into work. We look at things like mentorship programmes as well, cross mentoring between older and younger, younger and older colleagues, using the apprenticeship levy and encouraging people to use that not just for school or college or university leavers, but also for people over 50.

Also, I suppose anything that relates to flexibility, flexibility of working conditions, employment conditions. We're living beyond the traditional five day week now, what about a two day week, a four day week, condensed hours? There are all manner of different things that we can look at.  Finally, there are a lot of folk, particularly women who've been out of the workplace for a while. So how can we incentivise that latent pool of talent to come back into work and then to be provided with the transitional training that allows them to get back up to speed so they can hit the ground running?

Covid and post that period has seen an increase in the over 50’s leaving the labour market. What is driving that and do you think those who have chosen to leave the workforce will stay away or can they be tempted to return?

Really interesting. There have been so many studies into this. Why have so many people left the workforce post COVID? Well, for a lot of them, it wasn't even their choice. A lot of over 50s were deemed dispensable and were exited from the workforce by their employers. Equally, a lot of over 50s had got to such a point that given the chance to reflect and sit and think about life, they felt they weren't getting the career development opportunities, they weren't getting the recognition, they weren't getting the learning and development, they weren't getting the promotions, the pay increases, and they were feeling marginalised. And that was an incentive for folk to exit the workforce. On top of that, we're living in this sort of three chapter world of life - you go to school, you go to work and you retire. Now, I think it is being challenged into more of the gig economy, different roles, different companies, more flexible, working longer years where we can live and choose to work. All of those things have sort of coalesced into a different reality now whereby we're in a much more flexible environment for the over 50s. 

Your question was how can they be encouraged to come back? Well, I think by showing that there are employers who value their experience, who value their blend of technical and functional expertise, but also some of those battle hardened skills that come with the simple fact of having been through life's ups and downs and having dealt with more in life than our younger counterparts. So I think there are a number of things such as training, apprenticeships and job boards that are specific to the over 50s. We have one, there are other niche job boards out there too. And then also promoting internally and externally the value of what over 50s can bring in the context of a multigenerational workforce, the best blend is that of youth experience and people of all ages.

Touching on over 50’s recruitment - what are the 3 most common themes that stop organisations from embracing the recruitment of those who are over 50 and what are 3 solutions to move the dial positively?  

Okay, well, you're going to have to keep a score on me to make sure I keep three. Let me think. Well, okay, in no particular order, but let's start with data. People are afraid of data. They're afraid of the subject of age. There's a taboo or a stigma about age. So I would say one of the stumbling blocks is that there's not enough awareness about what's happening in people's employee workforce across the age spectrum, from when you apply to a job to when you enter to when you get trained up to when you progress, to when you get to certain stages in life and work. So that needs to be better understood, the motivations around that need to be understood, and then career pathway mapping and employee lifestyle practices need to be put in place to cater to those different age groups, moments in time, if you like, in life. 

Another stumbling block would be an absence of awareness about the type of training that is out there to help younger colleagues deal with older colleagues. Older colleagues manage younger and younger manage old. How do we deal with that? How do we demystify some of the stereotypes around age? This is all part of that awareness issue. There are too many myths out there about young, middle and old age that need to be blown apart as we hopefully move to a situation where age doesn't matter and it's about skills and attitudes and aptitude and experience. 

The third one would probably be around putting in place safe environments in the workplace whereby people can comfortably be encouraged to talk about age, to talk about the experiences and learning challenges at different stages of our career and then be provided active support by the employer to manage through that work and life cycle. Because at the end of the day, it's all about being fit for purpose irrespective of our age. And there are ways that employers can do that. 

Your second question was about things that can be done to address that. I think I've sort of tried to do that in the same way that I've expressed what the stumbling blocks might be. But more than anything, it's about collaboration, about recognising that different companies have different experiences that we collectively, as individuals do. So how do we come together around the theme of an age inclusive, age diverse world that we can all work towards at home, at work and at play, irrespective of our backgrounds, irrespective of our CV qualifications, but focusing on those qualities that we can bring to work and to life. And then how to mix those in an ageless cocktail of skills, experience and attitudes?

There is often a perception that technology and over 50’s don’t sit well together. What do you say to that? 

Well, I mean, look, I've managed to switch on the laptop today and I'm over 50, nearly 58 and we're managing to engage with headphones. I've got my smartphone here. Amazing. I'm not actually using a blackboard and piece of chalk. What can we do? What's the reality? 

Well, firstly, I think it is a myth. I mean, there are facts to support this. I think 40% of people aged 65 to 74 have smartphones are actively engaged on Facebook and other platforms so it's not like that. We are not the digital dinosaurs that we're made out to be. I think also the Office for National Statistics came up with something. I think I'll get this right, that 83% of adults age 55 to 64 are actively engaged on the Internet. So, again, whether you're a retailer looking to access the demographic of the over 50’s, a wealthy, influential demographic, don't assume that they won't respond well to digital based advertising, social media prompts, and so forth. They will. We will. We're there. 

Finally, we need to recognise that digital and tech skills are required throughout the age continuum, throughout the spectrum of the work environment, and that we can marry young, new to the market technology with young talent, but we can also marry that with the older, more experienced, sometimes heavier, softer, skills oriented talent. So that you get a mixture of technological know-how over the different decades, but also different ways of learning, different ways that the younger folk can teach the older. Don't say that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. You definitely can. And then recognize our different learning styles and then build that into our L and D programs. We need to look at it in the round, but we must accept that everybody today lives and breathes technology in some shape or form.

What role does technology play at 55/Redefined and what role should it play for the employability sector in engaging those over 50 and delivering better programme outcomes.  

Tech is really important to us. We are fundamentally a technology underpinned business. We have built our own jobs board. We have built our own recruitment advertising campaigns that are heavily based on algorithms and different types of technological solutions that are AI informed. So we are very much at the cutting edge of how technology can enable us to better access the over 50 demographic, but then provide new pathways for employers and recruiters to engage with that difficult to reach demographic. We do that, whether it's through our activity that's optimised for mobile phone usage right the way through to what we present on our website, the webinars that we put out there, and the different social media platforms that we engage with, with different types of content for different demographics, subject matters, times of the day, you name it, we're all over this. 

In terms of employability, I would say technology can do for the sector what it's certainly doing for us. I think the days of relying on ATS or applicant tracker systems, bot based machine learning, recruitment, are beginning to evolve into a different reality whereby there's still a role for that type of tech. But with the AI emergence now, you can be far more tailored to the individual demographic. Less reliant on pure tech, but more a combination of soft and hard technology know-how, data skills.  AI is definitely helping to take out some of the more mundane tasks from the process so that advisers can focus on the quality end, which is making sure that their clients are getting access to the right type of candidate and that candidates are being served up with the right type of role. That's specific for them. 

I think tech's got an emerging role to play in the data that underpins all of that. So being able to put in place appropriate data sets, tracking and balanced scorecards around data interaction with the consumer, those are all fundamental to delivering a high quality tech data rich platform for employing the over 50s.

Fast forward to 2030 - what does the UK labour market look like in relation to those who are over 50? 

Really interesting. So I will be 65. That is traditionally the time at which folk like me retire. Well, I won't be hanging up my boots for one and I suspect there'll be many other people like me who will still be gainfully employed. So what's it going to look like by then? Well, I think, and I hope that diversity inclusion won't be the sort of buzzwords, the lip service that they have tended to be a lot of the time, but they will have become deeply integrated into the DNA of organisations and the technology and recruiting solutions that are out there. AI being at the forefront of that. 

I think that we will see a better balanced, intergenerational world where we have a good blend of youth and experience, a good blend of hard and soft skills. I think we will see, without question, a higher proportion of people over 50 in the workplace than we do today. That's partly just through the way in which the demography of the planet is evolving, but also the choices. As we will see a more flexible work environment, we'll see more over 50s working who are not restricted by term times. We'll see more returners, we'll see more grandparents doing part time work and we'll see more apprentices, as I said before. 

I think we'll see more working practices across the public and private sector employment landscape that are designed to recognise the different life stages, motivations of people up and down the age spectrum. Finally, I'd like to think that we will see recognition and reward schemes, incentives, payment structures in place, learning and development schemes that recognise that we are here in an increasingly longer lived world with motivations that go way beyond that three dimensional timeframe I suggested at the outset of go to school, work and retire.

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