When it comes to encouraging urgent action on a specific issue, it helps to have a real and significant target or statistic. That is certainly the case when it comes to the need to increase the number of people aged 50 and over in employment.
While there is a rise taking place (9.8 million were employed in 2016 compared to 5.7 million in 1996), it needs to speed up. Too many older people are not being given the chance to remain in employment or re-enter it when they are older.
On 2 February, the Department of Work and Pensions published Fuller Working Lives, which Forster contributed to through the Business Strategy Group, outlining the action it wants to see taken by UK employers. This was reiterated on 6 February by the launch of Andy Briggs, CEO of Aviva UK Life, as the new Business Champion for Older Workers. He announced a headline challenge for employers to increase the number of older people in the UK workforce by one million over the next five years.
The target has been welcomed by progressive organisations but the real communications challenge is to reach beyond those already committed to tackling the issue and involving the broader base of employers who haven’t even got it on their radar.
Clients of ours such as Aviva, BITC and the Centre for Ageing Better have outlined some of the practical ways to get more employers to respond to the challenge, for example through adopting age friendly recruitment practices and workplace cultures, but without the pull of compulsion through legislation, the multiple benefits of the change needed must be sold to employers themselves.
The business and societal cases for getting more older people into employment are powerful and well evidenced – from the potential boost to GDP through to the positive impact of being in employment on long term health and wellbeing. The communications challenge is getting that powerful case for action communicated through the right channels and by the right people and organisations.
Employers will respond best hearing about this from their peers, industry leaders and advisors. It is a great step forward to have a new Business Champion announced. Now we need a groundswell of the business voices to get behind the target and show they are taking action, from business organisations like FSB and LEPs to high profile leaders to local leaders running organisations across the UK. We need change across the recruitment sector – from individual attitudes to the opportunities available.
Mass business participation is required to get a million more older people in employment by 2022. It’s an important, tough target – and it needs a focused, high profile, wide reaching campaign to achieve it.
By Amanda Powell-Smith, Chief Executive, Forster Communications