‘65 is not old’ - Older workers could plug Suffolk skills gap
- Credit: PA
Suffolk’s growing elderly population could help to plug the county’s skills gap by forming a “powerhouse” with younger workers - but only if firms guard against age discrimination, campaigners have warned.
The number of over-65s in the county is due to grow by 47% by 2037 - from 748,000 today, to more than 1million in less than 20 years.
Yet at the same time, Suffolk faces many challenges in recruiting people to skilled professions - whether as teachers, doctors and nurses or technicians and engineers.
However Charlotte Bate - director at MAD HR, which works across the East of England with bases in Ipswich and Norwich - said: "While there's more awareness of racial and gender discrimination, age discrimination doesn't seem to have come into that same level of consciousness."
While she stressed Suffolk is not alone in that, she said: "There are still lots of prejudices out there when it comes to age that some companies haven't quite got up to speed with.
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"It's about employers and employees not having any preconceptions.
"The traditional stereotypes that older workers are unreliable, have got health issues, are much slower and are physically less capable don't apply any more. In fact, the older workforce are often more healthy than the younger ones because they are so much more aware of eating well.
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"There's such a big challenge around retaining people and the skills shortage. If there's a skills shortage, then why can't we teaching the people we've got?
"Someone in their 50s is not looking to slow down, because in their heads they're working until they're 70.
"It's really looking at the benefits of what they have to offer and what they've achieved in their career so far."
Ms Bate added that technology firms, which are growing in Suffolk, "can traditionally be seen as a young person's game" - but said: "Actually, there could be a real blending of experience.
"What a powerhouse that would make - combining all that technological innovation with older people who can really bring that innovation to life."
Jo Reeder, head of fundraising and marketing at Age UK Suffolk, said: "65 is not old any more.
"We know we're living longer and having to work longer. Older people have a whole load of knowledge and experience that can be shared.
"It's about sharing those experiences - it might be that things have changed, but a lot of things could be relevant.
"I love the idea of older people mentoring younger people coming into the workplace. There are lots of benefits to having a mix of ages in the workforce.
"As a society, we need to embrace that and open our doors to people."
Much of that comes from the leaders of organisations setting the right tone and making workplaces accommodating to people of all ages, she said.