1.The Committee held an outreach event to hear from older people about their experiences in trying to gain employment. Participants included older people with a range of occupational backgrounds and family circumstances, and representatives of Open Age, a specialist recruitment service supporting older jobseekers into work. All participants were either service users or staff of Open Age. The discussion was facilitated by the Committee Chair and anonymised notes were taken of the discussion. We are grateful to Open Age for helping bring the group together and to all the participants for their valuable input to our inquiry. This note sets out the key themes that emerged from the discussion.
2.All had found it harder to get jobs than in the past. This included those who had taken lengthy career breaks of up to 15 years and those who had continuously been in the labour market. It also included those who had pursued a single profession, such as nursing, and were needing to move into less physically demanding roles and those who had worked in a wide range of fields. One former nurse had found that employers did not recognise the transferable skills she had developed during her career. Despite having experience of working with databases and other IT skills she did not have any tangible proof to show employers that she has these skills since she learned them on the job. Another nurse felt that her skills were being overlooked and young people are getting more interviews today than older people. In her experience employers “turn their nose up at people who are older and from the 60s generation” and others agreed giving examples of where they had lost out to younger workers for jobs that they had the skills to perform.
3.One jobseeker related how at one job interview he sensed that the employer did not want to hire him as soon as she saw that he was a ‘mature adult’. He continued with the interview telling her about his experience and he listed the eight different languages he could speak. Her response was “unfortunately he could not speak Greek” and he did not get the job. Similar experiences were described by those applying for a basic administrative role and an application for an apprenticeship. One participant had applied to a job that advertised a guaranteed interview scheme, stating that anyone coming within the definition of ‘disabled’ under the Equality Act and meeting the essential criteria would go through to interview. He expressed his frustration that despite having a disability, meeting the criteria for this job and being shortlisted for the post, he did not get an interview.
4.Participants felt that the Government should talk to young people who are the employers, get their views and educate them about employing older people. “It would be good to understand that dynamic.” Neither the job seekers or Open Age staff were aware of the work of the Government Business Champion for Older Workers in working with employers.
5.The group generally agreed that flexible working was important. One needed flexibility to enable him to continue working while managing a health condition and maintaining contact with his family that lived elsewhere.
6.One participant said that the job centre said that he had too much on his CV and referred him to a scheme for younger people. One was referred to Get Set by her job centre which gets you into work for six months. Participants felt that job centres did not have the flexibility to adapt to their needs: applicants are told to submit a certain number of job applications in a week. If someone is ill then they still have to submit this amount. Job centres are also under pressure to meet a quota. Three people had used job centres to help them find work and the job centre had referred some to Open Age while others had found out about the service online. People felt that job centre targets should be more realistic and take into account the transition and time needed for older people to find a job. No one had heard of the Older Claimant Champion, whose role is to support their local job centres to meet the needs of older claimants.
7.Participants were happy with the support from Open Age, which they all found more helpful than the Jobcentre. They felt that Open Age had a better approach and gave people time to find a job even if they did not get immediate results. However the representatives of Open Age said that they risked not hitting targets for applications because the Government did not recognise the higher costs and time needed to provide a tailored service to older job seekers.
8.All agreed that age discrimination was the most significant block to getting a job. They also discussed how the process of applying for work could present barriers. One had been advised not to list the dates of her qualifications, as doing so would inform the employer of your age. Another felt that the skills required for a job have been “simplified and so measured that they are missing the whole person”, and that interviewers were less interested in people with experience. Another felt that, “If you don’t tick the box, the person is missed.” He was self-educated and intelligent, however, “because his qualifications do not add up the computer assumes he has learning difficulties”.
9.Others had spent most of their working lives self-employed and had little experience of interviews. One had had his last interview in 1980, did not understand the language used in job descriptions today. All of the participants wanted help to ‘translate’ the language of the job description for them, as the terminology had changed a lot since they had last been seeking work. One participant pointed out that younger people are interviewing older people today. “Why do they need an older person who can’t go on Instagram? Is what they think. It’s a different language that people speak. Your eyes glaze over when they say that they can ‘twitter me’”.
10.Many were frustrated with the lack of response to job applications. Responses could be important, but were not the norm and a lot of time and effort in looking at the criteria for every job received a typical response from the employer “that if you don’t hear from them in two weeks then you have not got the job”. One participant spoke of having had suicidal thoughts due to the number of such rejections. Open Age said that some good practice companies were moving away from the use of online applications, towards more interactive, personal recruitment methods.
11.One participant had found that he was unable to access teaching jobs that he had successfully performed in the past because he had convictions from when he was younger. While they did not bar him from the jobs, the need to disclose meant that agencies just didn’t take him on: “If an agency takes you on they have to contact every school to disclose your criminal record. Agencies do not want to go through all this. When you work with children they do a lot of checks which they never used to do before.”
12.For some there were limits to the physical nature of the jobs they could do. A former decorative artist and a former nurse both said that age had reduced their ability to take on physically demanding roles.
13.Some felt that employers were wary of people changing their careers, but all had either undertaken training to develop new skills or planned to do so: a former nurse had trained in IT, horticulture and accountancy; another wanted to learn more about project management and do a Prince2 course.
14.One jobseeker said that she has done a course to train to be a receptionist in a particular sector. It was designed with employers in that sector, so was tailored for what she and the employer needed. All agreed that this was a good model, and that too often courses were not well enough connected to the requirements of jobs.
15.IT and computer skills were a common theme, but with varying experiences. Some felt they needed to develop computer skills, but one attending computer courses was still uncertain what specific computer skills she needed to help her find a job. Another had the necessary IT skills, but was doing a training course because she needed a certificate to show that she is computer literate. Others had faced no barriers with using IT or in accessing training.
16.The group discussed apprenticeships and one had tried to apply only to be turned down because of his age. Another did not apply for a 3-year apprenticeship because she was 61 and by the time she finished she would have been 64. She felt that a younger person would have got more out of the apprenticeship. For others the money was so low for apprenticeships that they felt there was no point in applying for it.
17.Flexibility in attendance requirements could also be important to create equal opportunities for older people, recognising that age-related health issues can cause problems with training when a person has to pull out. This puts them in a position to have to start all over again to look for work.
Published: 17 July 2018