Plea for over 50s to return to work as staff shortages criple economy ‘We need experience’

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Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at British Chambers of Commerce, said last night: “Businesses rely on the skills and experience that older workers bring to the workplace. But hundreds of thousands of people have left the workforce during the pandemic so we are seeing a worsening of skills shortages and mounting problems for employers.”

She suggested more training opportunities, and support for workers who become ill, would encourage older people back to work. MPs have also called on the Government to act.

The plea comes after thousands of workers aged 50 to 70 quit their jobs during the Covid pandemic, or were made redundant and decided against looking for new employment.

Official figures show that nearly half a million older people have left the workforce in recent years. The number of people over 50 classed as economically inactive, which means they are not in work or looking for work, rose by 493,000 between October 2019 and December 2021.

A survey by the Office for National Statistics found one in five people in their 50s who quit working did so because of stress or mental health concerns.

Employers and government must work together to bring older people back into the workforce according to British Chambers of Commerce, which represents business organisations across the country.

Ms Gratton said last night: “It’s vital that employers and the government do all we can to help older workers stay in work by ensuring they have access to rapid and targeted training opportunities, flexible workplace policies and in-work support for any who develop ill health.

“The longer someone is out of work, the more their skills and confidence will suffer, so it’s vital we encourage people back into work quickly, by helping them return to their careers or to pivot their transferable skills to new sectors.   

“The evidence shows that a fully inclusive, multigenerational workforce is good for business, being more likely to represent the needs of customers and communities, and leading to better decision making and performance.”

MPs have urged the Government to act. Conservative MP Mark Pawsey said older workers could be encouraged back by offering them part-time employment or flexible hours.

Speaking in Parliament, he said: “Businesses have raised with me the loss from the workforce of people in the 50 to 70 age demographic who either lost or left their jobs during the pandemic. The Government should focus on how we might get such experienced people back into the workforce.”

A Government Spokesperson said: “Older workers are a huge asset to our economy and there are currently over nine million workers aged over 50 on employer payrolls – an increase of more than 300,000 compared to a year ago.

“Across our Jobcentres we help this group take stock of their skills, health and wealth when planning their next career move, including through our “50 Plus: Choices” offer and Midlife MOTs, and we have dedicated Older Worker champions around the country to help tackle some of the barriers, including by working closely with employers to open up more opportunity.”

The UK now has more job vacancies than people who are unemployed, for the first time since records began, and many employers are struggling to recruit staff. Lack of staff in food manufacturing and transport have contributed to delays in supply chains, leading to gaps on supermarket shelves.

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