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In conversation with Michelle Rainbow: ‘Fuller Working Lives’ for the over 50s

Michelle Rainbow, the North East LEP’s skills for business manager, discusses the government’s ‘Fuller Working Lives’ strategy. The strategy encourages employers to boost their numbers of older workers and to make sure that those in our workforce who are older are supported, whether they want to pursue a new direction or continue in their career.

We know that in the UK, there are more people aged 50 and over in employment than ever before and by 2020 over 50s will make up almost a third of the working age population.

However, we also know that significant numbers of people face issues such as redundancy, health problems and caring responsibilities that force them to leave the workforce before retirement age.

This isn’t just a problem for the people who are personally affected – who can suffer health, wellbeing and financial issues as a result – but for the economy as a whole. After all, it means we’re missing out on the skills people could bring to our workplaces, and as the population grows older we need to make sure we’re equipped to deal with the changes this brings.

In the North East we have one of the lowest employment rates in the country for those aged 50 and over – 63.7% – and this poses a real challenge.

How can we take positive action to support both employers and employees? How should we be reskilling and upskilling older workers and helping to retain these valuable and experienced employees in the North East workforce?

The government’s Fuller Working Lives initiative focuses on ‘the three R’s’: retain, retrain and recruit.

Retain. We can retain over 50s in the workplace by planning effectively for an ageing workforce . We are already working with employers in the region to investigate how we can best retain the skills and experience of older workers in our region’s economy.

Retrain. Older workers are often overlooked when it comes to workplace training. However, when you consider the fact that someone aged 50 could easily stay with their employer for another 15 years or more, there’s a clear case for investing in their development, to the benefit of both the individual and the employer.

Recruit. When it comes to recruitment, age discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, can be a barrier for older people who are seeking work. It can also mean that employers are missing out on the skills and experience of an entire section of the workforce.

We’ve already created a task and finish group composed of business leaders, local authorities and policy makers to tackle the issues raised in the Fuller Working Lives strategy here in the North East. We’ll be supporting employers to make our workplaces fit for a changing workforce and we’ll be looking at how we can make sure that people of all ages have the opportunity to develop their skills.

Our aim is to create more and better jobs for people in the North East and that includes the over 50s – a crucial part of the North East economy.

To find out more about government plans to support the 50+ workforce, visit the .gov.uk website.