Older learners – a new source of revenue for UK universities?

If it is to be believed that where the US goes, the UK will follow, academic governors ought to be paying heed to a recent article published in the US.

It suggests that many retirees are settling in towns that boast major universities. One survey of people 55 to 75 years of age found that more than half had a favourable view of retiring to a university town, and that in response a large number of campus communities have put out the welcome mat.

Retirees are attracted by the chance to take courses, find volunteer work at the universities, and enjoy the cultural activities that are part of the academic scene.

In the UK increasing numbers of older people are participating in the Open University and the University of the Third Age as well as enrolling in degree courses at mainstream universities. The question of the extent to which specific “third age” programmes should be designed for older people is open to debate but certainly a more positive drive to openly recruit more mature+ students could be a profitable move.

To see the full story:


Well enough to work?

An interesting session was hosted in London on Tuesday by the International Longevity Centre (ILC): Older workers, health and employment. While nothing overwhelmingly new came out of it, the keynote speech by Dame Carol Black in particular on trends in the health of older workers nevertheless created an impact.

Although, as she pointed out, one in four of us born today can expect to live to 100, the factors mitigating that in terms of our own poor health are startling. As the fourth fattest nation in the world we are facing a situation where 40% of all UK adults will be obese by 2025 and three quarters of the population will be too ill to work to the projected retirement age of 68.

Her presentation clearly underlined Abraham Lincoln’s point that “It’s not the years in your life that count but the life in your years”. The spectre of so many of us living longer in ill health and disability is an appalling prospect at every level – individual, societal and economic – and tantamount to a total disaster.

In the main the session focused on what employers can or could do to help the situation through health and wellbeing programmes and what these might encompass. Little mention was given of individual responsibility and how, rather ironically in light of this topic, you can lead a horse to water…

Realistically lack of knowledge about lifestyle habits and their effects generally isn’t the problem, and neither is lack of employer support. What is the problem is lack of motivation, good role models and a realistic understanding of the consequences of our actions (or inaction).

If those of us “in the know” in the ageing arena can be startled by such figures, surely a well-produced TV documentary series would have considerable impact on the man (and woman) in the street?

Facing the future over 50

A one-day workshop  for anyone aged around 50 who is seeking  greater clarity about what they want from life and enhanced motivation around how to get it.

Being over 50 is one of the very best times of life. Many of the struggles of youth are behind us but with the likelihood of decades of life still ahead of us we still have time to realise our full potential and achieve our remaining dreams.

The choices surrounding what to do with the rest of our life are limitless. Yet age provides us with the wisdom to know that having choices means making changes – and change can be  both exhilarating and challenging.

This workshop has been designed to help you rethink the rest of your life. Using our unique development model, we help you identify and prioritise which areas you want or need to change, why you want to change, and what might be the outcome.

Saturday 28 January 2012 9.30 am to 5.00 pm

Room 354, Malet Street Building, Birkbeck College, University of London, London WC1E 7HX


For details click here

Working longer but working differently

A recent article by Alicia Munnell, Director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College in the US highlights that not only are older workers working longer but they are increasingly moving from one job to another. For example in 1983, the average tenure of men aged 55-64 was 15.3 years; by 2008 it had declined to 10.1 years (figures relate to 2008 rather than 2010 to separate long-term trends from the effects of the recession). Although tenure was down across the board, it was most pronounced amongst older workers.

The article continues:      

“An even more direct way to show the decline in career employment is to see how many work­ers toward the end of their careers are still with the employer they had at age 50.  In 1983, 63% of men 58-62 were with their age-50 employer; by 2008, that figure had dropped to 47%. Although career employment is more common among workers with more education the shift away from career employment was consistent across educational groups.”

The question, of course, is whether the increased mobility is voluntary or enforced to which the answer is “we don’t know”. 

“On the one hand, data on displacement rates, which report layoffs for reasons other than job performance, have not increased for older workers.  These data would suggest that separations of older workers are largely due to quits, not layoffs.  The distinction between layoffs and quits, however, is not always clear.  Employers can reduce a worker’s compensation or increase job demands.  Workers could also feel insecure in their current job, due to technological change or increased competition, especially from overseas.  If workers quit in response to such pressures, they would be leaving on their own volition, but the decline of career employment could not be characterized as a positive development.”

In respect of whether increased mobility of older workers is helpful or harmful to working longer the picture is similarly cloudy.

“The new jobs generally pay less and are less likely to offer pension and health insurance coverage. This fall in wages and benefits makes continued employment less attractive vis-à-vis retirement.  On the other hand, workers who shift jobs often report less stress and an increase in job satisfaction that makes work more attractive vis-à-vis retirement.  The fall in wages and benefits also reduces household wealth, and this “wealth effect” also encourages con­tinued employment.  How workers respond depends on the strength of these various effects.”

The article bears out my own research that older people want to work longer but not just by doing more of the same. It also highlights some of the complexities in terms of factors affecting objective and subjective work and career motivation in later life.

In light of the current focus in the UK around the abolition of the default retirement age, this interesting insight into what later life working actually looks like – or is going to look like –  is invaluable. To the best of my knowledge we don’t have similar information available for the UK; it would be good to hear about it if anyone knows differently.

To read the full article go to: http://blogs.smartmoney.com/encore/2011/08/15/are-older-workers-job-hopping-more/

Things in life that just don’t add up – no. 619

As we all face the likelihood of living longer we are exhorted to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to ensure that any extra years of life can be enjoyed in good health while reducing the burden on state care. Employers too are encouraged to offer health and wellness programmes for all.

However in direct opposition to this is the fact that large numbers of retired people are entitled to a higher income in their retirement if they have underlying health conditions which would qualify them for an enhanced annuity.  Qualifying conditions for an enhanced annuity include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes – all of which are, to some extent, preventable, lifestyle-related ailments.

A new press release issued by MGM Advantage, a specialist in retirement income, contains the following comment from their Sales and Marketing Director: “It is an unfortunate fact of life that as we get older, we are more at risk of getting underlying health conditions. Those buying an annuity should have a health check and be sure to inform their annuity provider of any health conditions to see if they qualify for an enhanced annuity. The difference between a standard and an enhanced annuity can be significant and would make a real difference, particularly when the cost of living is squeezing finances.”

So sod the salad and gym. Hunker down in front of the TV and have another pint and pie…



Reluctance to employ older workers – fear of the unknown or the known?

Undoubtedly amongst all the issues relating to extended working life and age management the problem of the unemployed older person is the most challenging and frustrating at an individual level.   While unemployment for anyone is a tragedy, the plight of the older unemployed who were once – quite recently – not only employable but capable of holding highly skilled, powerful and influential roles is heartbreaking and disturbing.  In the job market they typically cannot even get an acknowledgement of their application for a post, let alone an interview.

Coaching, counselling, and even physical makeovers can all help improve an individual’s chances but ultimately nothing can be done to remove the elephant in the room – age – that is the barrier to their employment.

I have yet to meet an employer – whether a business owner, HR professional or individual manager – who is prepared to admit that they are reluctant to employ older people. And I am unlikely to.  After all, such an admission would amount to age discrimination and, what’s more it is easy to concede that there is little wrong with older people in principle.

So where is the sticking point?  Is it fear of the unknown i.e. employers are happy with the older workers they already have – whose strengths, weaknesses and work proclivities they know, but don’t want to risk any unknown quantities in terms of older workers who may have issues? Or is their reluctance based on perceptions of their past and current older employees who they certainly wouldn’t want any more of, thank you very much?

Would knowing the answer make any difference?  Probably not.  But it might help individual older job seekers if they could be convinced that really and truly it had very little to do at a personal level with them.






This year’s Purpose Prize winners

The Purpose Prize – the United States’ only large-scale investment in people over 60 who are combining their passion and experience for social good – was created in 2005 by Civic Ventures. Its aim was to showcase the value of experience and disprove notions that innovation is the sole province of the young.

The Prize awards up to $100,000 each annually to five people in encore careers creating new ways to solve tough social problems.

A similar scheme in the UK would do wonders for encouraging entrepreneurship and social innovation in the over 50s. These talents are already plentiful but tend to be sidelined in comparison to younger individuals.

See this year’s winners – announced last week – at http://www.encore.org/prize

Understanding the unique strengths of older workers

As the workplace becomes a colder, harder more competitive place for employees while customer service gains in importance as a key business differentiator, it may be useful for employers to be aware of some new psychological research from the University of California. http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2010/12/16/agingemotion/

The study suggests that as we age we become more suited to social and compassionate activities. Changes in our nervous systems which bring about these emotional intelligence changes are likely not only to give older people social advantages but to give them (us) an edge in the workplace in those tasks involving social relationships and caring for others.

An interesting article on these findings: Customer Service Roles: The New Frontier for the Over 60s? at  http://customerservicepsychology.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/customer-service-roles-the-new-frontier-for-the-over-60s/   quotes Tracy Burrell, HR Manager at D&G’s Nottingham call centre  who, having recognised this strength in their staff, has conducted  a campaign to recruit more older people.  She says “We find that our mature workers have much more empathy with our customers. They understand the issues that the person at the other end of the telephone is having.”

Other studies have shown that older people tend also to have more patience and emotional stability in dealing with potentially stressful situations such as these.

Whilst not every older worker wants to work in a call centre the study underlines the need for employers to recognise, understand and hopefully act upon some of the diverse range of strengths that older people can contribute in the workplace.  Studies such as this also may help older people themselves in strengthening their case for employment.