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'There is often a stigma that people in their 50s, who are out of work, are waiting it out until retirement'

There needs to be a cultural shift when it comes to employing older people, writes Tom Neville TD.

I’VE SEEN OLDER people discriminated against in the workplace countless times.

During my time as a recruitment professional, I recruited into companies all over the world and it’s the same story everywhere. Discrimination against older people is resulting in experienced people leaving the workforce without passing on vital knowledge and skills to younger generations.

From my own experience of working in recruitment, I have seen how frustrating it can be for older people attempting to re-enter the workforce. Barriers often include the perception they were too senior or they wouldn’t fit into the work culture of a younger team.

Ireland has one of the youngest populations in the European Union

There is often a stigma that people in their fifties, who are out of work, are waiting it out until retirement. I think this mindset needs to be changed. We need to promote a positive perception and image of older people in the workforce.

I recently told the Dáil that the Government needs to start formulating policies and examining procedures to involve more older people in the workforce. I want to see more experienced workers get the training and support they need to reintegrate into the workforce or to have a career change later in life.

People are often forced to leave the workforce, due to downsizing or redundancy, yet they do not want to do so. They leave the workforce with knowledge, skills and life experience that could be passed on to younger generations. There needs to be a formal process to allow this transfer of skills to happen.

People in their fifties and sixties have so much to bring to the table

Apart from experience, they bring an emotional maturity and expertise of different industries. If properly utilised this untapped resource could bring untold benefits to the Irish economy and society.

The Positive Ageing 2016 national report shows that for those in the 50+ age category, the employment rate is 63%. The employment rate is continuing to rise, which is very welcome. We are currently 2% to 3% away from full-employment.

The 65+ age group in Ireland is rising faster than anywhere else in the European Union. By 2041, 1.3 to 1.4 million people in this country will be over 65, which will be 20% to 25% of the total population.

A cultural shift

In my opinion, there needs to be a cultural shift in respect of employing older people, including those with experience who have been obliged to leave the workforce. Sometimes contracts are not renewed at the age of 65 and pensions do not start until age 66. Therefore, what can people do for that year?

Loneliness can also have a negative impact on mental health for the elderly and increase their risk of depression. I would like to see a formal programme whereby older people get the opportunity to pass on their knowledge and insights to young people who lack experience. I think this would be a win win situation.

It sees two demographics of society engaging with each other, and would benefit society as well as the workplace.

Valuable life experience

As highlighted in the National Positive Ageing Strategy, flexible retirement arrangements in the work environment can be adapted to the needs of all generations. Continuous education and training are important, as is the promotion of positive images of older people showing that they can contribute.

We can facilitate people of great experience who have left the workforce, and who may not be able to contribute to it directly, but who may be able to contribute through training and passing on vital experience to younger generations.

Life experience is a valuable asset that can be utilised and passed to the young, in a managed fashion, with economic and societal benefits. How often have we heard the young stating that they cannot get a job as they don’t have enough experience? Maybe the mentorship of an older person could give them the couple of percentage points in the interview to get that job offer.

Tom is Fine Gael TD for Limerick County.

A mandatory retirement age is discriminatory. It just doesn’t make sense in a changing Ireland>

“I won’t refer to your inexperience…”: Noonan channels Reagan after Doherty raises age in TV debate>


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