Older workers benefit from fresh demand for knowledge

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The Independent Online

The success of the new economy is becoming more reliant on the knowledge and expertise of people in their 50s, as a freshly-completed study indicaties that employer demand for the "new elders" has nearly trebled over the past year.

The success of the new economy is becoming more reliant on the knowledge and expertise of people in their 50s, as a freshly-completed study indicaties that employer demand for the "new elders" has nearly trebled over the past year.

The extent of the grey revolution is made clear in a report published today by The Industrial Society, showing that the over-50s are returning to work at a much faster rate than the rest of the population.

The demand is being driven by young entrepreneurs launching Internet start-up companies looking for strategic know-how, the boom in the economy, and a growing number of companies realising that they lack staff with in-depth experience and knowledge.

The report reveals that businesses set up by people in their early 50s are twice as likely to survive as those established by people in their early 20s, and the employment rate for women aged 50 and over has increased at almost three times the rate of the workforce as a whole.

The author of the report, Charlotte Thorne, said that the declining birth rate meant that employers were not only being forced to look for older workers, but were doing so enthusiastically as social changes had enabled the older generation to remain fitter and become more adaptable than ever before.

"Society and pressure groups have traditionally seen ageing as a time of loss and vulnerability, ignoring changing demographics and labour market trends which are making the over 50s a force to be reckoned with," she said.

"The current requirement is for knowledge. Businesses require people who can utilise experience and understanding, and that puts older workers in a good position."

Roger Worsley of the Carnegie Third Age Programme, an organisation studying the restraints and opportunities facing older workers, said there was still widespread discrimination.

"We have passed through an era where there has been an assault on the employment of the over-50s, mainly with employers offering early retirement as a soft option in terms of downsizing," he said.

"The growing economy means that demand for older employees is increasing, but there is still a long way to go."

Roger Harper, a 53-year-old former navigator with the Royal Air Force knows just how difficult it can be to return to the workforce. Mr Harper said it took him four years to get a job after he took voluntary redundancy at the age of 47.

Although he acknowledges that the booming economy may be making it easier for older people, he admitted that he had a very difficult time finding full-time employment.

However, the success witnessed by 58-year-old Graham Andrews proves that perseverance can pay off following the launch of his online magazine for the over-50s two years ago, 30 years after his first venture into publishing.

"I wanted to get back into the media industry but the current economics of traditional magazine publishing make that too expensive," he said. "But, its not that hard to learn how to set up a website, so I decided to launch the magazine myself."

The Industrial Society report found that there were four different types of older workers in demand.

Heading the list are the "warhorses", who are seasoned campaigners with experience of previous economic cycles.

Meritec , a Bradford based information technology firm has been employing warhorses for some time. The average age of the company's consultants solving client problems is 50.

The second type who are cashing in are the "trusted guides", whose age and experience consumers trust over youth and enthusiasm.

Globalisation and the need for world-wide networks are also bringing older people to the fore as "networkers" particularly for employers with partner companies situated in parts of Asia, where respect for older employees is far greater than it is in the West.

Also in favour are "strategists", who can stand above the expanding sea of information and focus on long-term goals.

Ronald Cohen of Apax Partners, a venture capitalist firm with nearly £2m invested in the new economy said: "Young entrepreneurs are coming in and asking for experienced people, increasingly they're realising that wise old heads are a necessity if they wish to get their business to the stockmarket."

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