Skip to content

Focus on older workers to plug UK skills gap

A new campaign, which has been variously called the ‘silver quota’, is highlighting the need for business to focus on recruiting ‘older workers’ to address the UK skills gap.


These companies are highlighted as already committing to this target and publishing age data: viva, Atos, Barclays, The Co-operative Group, Home Instead Senior Care, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), Mercer, and Boots UK are the first employers to publically pledge their commitment to meeting this target and have already published their age data.

However I was slightly confused as to the way in which this data might a) recorded b) organised and c) utilised.  The BITC appear to ask for raw numbers in two categories: 50-64 and 65-69 which I find slightly baffling!   Why not collect ALL AGE related data and use the same size chronological age bands.  Further this does appear to suggest that 69 might be the upper end of ‘older workers’ when there is no default retirement age.

We have also highlighted before the issue of the broad and generic age label “older” to apply to everyone over 50!  We are not alone as this article usefully points out:


Crisis, what crisis? Who counts as NEET as experts argue for #youth #employment programme

Remember NEETs, those aged 16-24 who are not in education, employment or training? They come under the spotlight periodically and were in the news again this week in this article in The Independent. The latest figures from the ONS apparently show that the number of NEETs has risen significantly in the past year. Oddly, the article only refers to those aged 16-18 so it’s not clear if we are talking about the same group.

More than 7% of those aged 16-18 are now classed as NEET which is approximately 134,000 people. It’s suggested that this age group isn’t receiving careers advice and training opportunities.

We also now have NETs (not sure I’ve seen this acronym before). These are said to be 16-18 year-olds who are not in education or training. The number of NETs has also risen, up by 2% to 15.5%.

The article quotes Kirsty McHugh of the Employment Related Services Association (ESRA) as saying: “Central Government just do not see youth unemployment as a crisis. But actually, it’s been a big problem for a long, long time and that has been the case since before the economic crash.” Well, we’ve certainly seen in our data alerts a number of occasions when the crisis formulation has been used to describe youth unemployment. Currently the youth unemployment rate is 12.7% (for 19-24 year olds, yet another age group) compared to an overall UK unemployment rate of 4.6%.

It is noteworthy how different ages are used across the article, e.g. for youth unemployment these are not the same as the NEETs or NETs. Does this allow the conflation of different statistics to create a more compelling case for intervention? In the context of the general election, it’s interesting that Ms McHugh decides that the current absence of a Government youth employment programme is a contributing factor.

Other points to note: look at the stock photo! I’ve not seen that one before but it’s certainly ripe for visual analysis, particularly when you also read some of the reader comments below the line.

Age issues on Radio One

Having covered the debate on Radio Four, I thought I should be fair and comment on some issues of age I heard on Radio One driving home the other night (news in the morning, music in the evening – it works for me).  Greg James has a regular ‘game’ called “What’s my age again” (from a recent song) in which (mainly young from what I’ve heard) callers are quizzed as to clothes they wear, films they’ve seen, objects they remember and then Greg and an other guy guess their age.  OK so it might seem banal  but it was interesting how many stereotypes come out during that short section.  The other day it was combined with a discussion on whistling which apparently is for ‘old people’ ….of 60 who are also in ‘retirement’.  Maybe this seems trivial but its just another way age stereotypes are perpetuated .

Generations and the General Election

Yesterday’s Today programme on Radio Four tackled the General Election via the lens of age – and the notions of generations in particular.  In a particularly lively live broadcast from Bath “old people” were accused of having too much whilst “the young” were attacked for being too lazy and disengaged.  By default I assume this latter accusation must have excluded those who got up early to participate in the debate – which does kind of illustrate the risk of stereotyping.

The issue of house prices obviously came up, and rather unfortunately the impression seem to be created that being old automatically entailed ownership of a £1.5million Georgian house.  (It doesn’t – unless I’m not quite old enough yet and someone will just turn up with some house keys in a few years time? No I don’t think so either.)

While there were attempts to ask if things were actually different generationally – that is to say is it any different for the young now than the when ‘old people’ were young – on the whole the debate kept to a generic old v young divide.

There was a useful analysis of issues regarding pension and likely financial status of future pensioners (and its not pretty).  This is of course a challenging issue which affects many different age groups.  As now there will be a huge variation in wealth among pensioners – being old is not a guarantee of wealth now or in the future.


WEF event: Addressing an ageing population and work: Nov 2017

We blogged a while ago about an event later this year organised by the Westminster Employment Forum.

Entitled “Addressing an ageing population and work – implementing the Fuller Working Lives strategy and reforming the State Pension” please note that it will now take place on Thursday 2nd November 2017 (and not in September as previously stated). Further details to be found here.

The Guest of Honour will be Anna Dixon, Chief Executive, Centre for Ageing Better

The event will look at the challenges for policymakers in the context of an ageing population and the independent review of the State Pension Age (SPA). Sessions will consider how a reformed SPA might affect different social and age groups as they prepare for retirement, and the challenges for ensuring that all retirees have sufficient income to support them.

Other speakers include Dr Joanne Crawford, Head of Ergonomics and Human Factors, Institute of Occupational Medicine and Christopher Brooks, Senior Policy Manager, Consumer and Community, Age UK.

Ageism and the young

After a bit of a blogging hiatus due to holidays we are back!  A quick scout around the news, and a determination to avoid the election for a few days, and I spotted this piece in the Guardian:

Ageism at work: ‘Being mistaken for the work-experience kid is humiliating’

This provides a useful reminder that ageism is problematic for young aswell as old, a point acknowledged the annonymous author who points out that we will all be at risk from ageism at some, or indeed many, points in our lives.  In particular here discussing the use of terms such as ‘child’ and ‘kid’ for younger people higlights how this can impact confidence and self-esteem.  As one tweet put it, if you think that is bad try “being the work experience kid”.

Future work on Age at Work project

Katrina and I met up yesterday to plan future work on the Age at Work project so this is a quick round up of our plans.

As Katrina had already blogged recently we are off to the WORK 2017 conference in Turku, Finland in August. We are also delighted to have had papers accepted at a couple of other conferences too.

So the further details are that we will be at:

The British Society of Gerontology in July 2017 presenting our paper “Calendar Girls: Ageing and Aesthetic Labour“. In this paper, we use discursive and visual methods to analyse online news media coverage of the Pirelli calendar.  We use the concept of a discursive event as a temporally and contextually bounded episode (Hardy & Maguire, 2010) that can shed light on a wider societal issue. This offers a way of examining the discursive (often recursive) processes that take place when concepts and identities are represented, how such representations are situated in wider discourses and what is achieved as a result.

The Manchester Ethnography Symposium in August/September 2017 presenting our paper “Facing up to work: a collaborative-visual-auto-ethnography”. This explores our reflexive experience of a collaborative-visual-auto-ethnography undertaken as part of a broader research project examining aesthetic labouring (Entwistle and Wissinger, 2006).  Our specific interest is the trend towards a ‘new natural’ femininity of ageing and its construction as a discourse of successful liberation. We are concerned with how the positive associations between beauty, femininity and youth (Trethewey, 1999) are becoming further refined, such that they must be performed effortlessly as women age, most notably without recourse to make-up. We unpack our own aesthetic labouring as ‘older’ women working not in the entertainment industry per se, but in a role which still requires us to face an audience in the lecture theatre on a regular basis.

It’s going to be a busy summer! But we are excited to be going to these conferences and looking forward not just to presenting our work but hearing about the research of others too. We also have a journal paper in review and a couple of other papers in development.

Age at work and the #GeneralElection

We are back after an Easter break. And hardly at our desks before the news broke of the upcoming general election. Listening to the Today programme this morning and browsing The Guardian’s coverage of today’s Parliamentary debate at lunchtime, some ‘age at work’ stories seemed to leap out…

First, some contrast in how the age of MPs and parliamentary candidates is used (or not used).  The Independent reported here that Vince Cable, who lost his seat in the last election, had announced his intention to run for Parliament again in his former seat of Twickenham. Sir Vince is 73 and his age is not mentioned in the article (nor, I think, did it come up in his interview on the Today programme) which is refreshing.  It is however raised in the reader comments where for example, one reader writes ‘Jobs for the boys, no interviews, just straight in the door ahead of younger candidates’ – implying the privilege of prior experience but conflating this with older age.

George Osborne however specifically invokes his age (45) as a reason for his decision to stand down (though some might say that the election is a convenient mechanism for him to do so given the criticism he faced over his multiple other jobs). ‘At the age of 45, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life just being an ex-chancellor. I want new challenges. I’m very excited about the opportunity to edit the Evening Standard. I’ve met the team there, and their energy and commitment to this great newspaper are positively infectious.’ As reported here in The Guardian, Osborne also said that “I am stepping down from the House of Commons – for now” – leaving open the possibility of a return to politics. So not quite sure how that tallies with the opening line quoted above about not wanting to be an ex-chancellor at 45. And if anyone had made sure that with numerous other paid roles, they weren’t ‘just being an ex-chancellor‘ I think we can say that it is George Osborne.

Away from the age of politicians, we have also seen the issue of voter age raised by the Greens who are calling for 16 and 17 year olds to be allowed to vote in the general election.

And there are calls for younger people to register to vote – not least after (unfounded?) speculation  that the absence of voting by this age group contributed to the outcome of the EU Referendum.

This gives an indication of some of the age-related matters that are likely to be issues in the campaign. I’m sure we’ll return to this before 8th June!

@AgeatWork is off to #WORK2017

Rebecca and I are delighted to have had our paper accepted for #WORK2017

Calendar girls? Aesthetic labour in the digital age

In this paper we explore the ways in which a ‘new, natural’ femininity (Lewis, 2014) is being positioned as positive, authentic and empowering for working women. We build on concerns that idealized representations of women and widespread use of digitalization effectively erase ageing and promote a perpetual youth (Twigg, 2010).  Analysing debates about an iconic visual representation of women, we explore how the 2017 Pirelli Calendar can be seen as a product of aesthetic labour which digitally circulates and recirculates as understandings of ‘naturalness’ become (re)constructed.


Our campaign pays off: Turner Prize age limit lifted!

So after our prolonged campaign, well a few blog posts, tweets and an unanswered email to the Tate, we are thrilled to hear that the Turner Prize has lifted it’s age limit!  (Just to clarify, we are not really claiming that this was entirely down to our influence…though every little helps!)


Reporting the announcement A-N quoted Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson:  “We have always kept these terms under review and we feel that now is the right moment to make this change. The Turner Prize has always championed emerging artists — it has never been a prize for long service but for a memorable presentation of work in that year.  Now that its reputation is so firmly established, we want to acknowledge the fact that artists can experience a breakthrough in their work at any age.”

We note that the Turner Prize launched in 1984 and are surprised that given it is one of the most talked about art prizes in the world that it has only regarded itself as established in 2017!  Twitter seems to agree this was a change that was long overdue!


%d bloggers like this: