Tomorrow's people are the over-60s

Either because we have to, or our skills are in demand, more and more of us will be working past retirement by 2020.
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The Independent Online

The year is 2020. What will you be doing? If you're smiling at the thought of the work-free life your retired parents or grandparents enjoy, you can think again. While 51 per cent of today's workers believe they will be able to retire at 55 or before, and only 18 per cent of permanent employees believe they will work beyond 65, the reality is changing fast.

The year is 2020. What will you be doing? If you're smiling at the thought of the work-free life your retired parents or grandparents enjoy, you can think again. While 51 per cent of today's workers believe they will be able to retire at 55 or before, and only 18 per cent of permanent employees believe they will work beyond 65, the reality is changing fast.

Forget the pipe and slippers or that round-the-world plane ticket, says "Tomorrow's Work", a new report published by Kelly Services; we're more likely to embark on a "post-retirement career". There will be new types of worker, too. At the top of the tree will be a breed of sixty-something experts called "Past Masters", who will be in high demand for their lifetime's expertise. Also likely to cash in are "Past Pros" - professionals who have been forced by technological advances to retrain and whose new skills will be more marketable.

Still able to work, but with a more limited earning capacity will be a greying band of "Outsiders" - older workers on short-term and temporary contracts who will be able to take advantage of the continued growth of outsourcing.

Then there will be "Servicers" - older workers without the specific professional skills of their peers who will be asked to do a range of jobs - from childcare to gardening and cleaning - for the rest of the working population.

Graham Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors and author of the report, claims the increase in flexible working will be one of the causes of more over-sixties working beyond the traditional retirement age. It will also be largely responsible, he adds, for the end of the "nine-to-five rat race", the redefinition of the office and a significant increase in temporary working.

The study also claims that by 2020, in a world of increasing longevity, many of us will realise we have overestimated the retirement income we will have to live on. Indeed, expectations of an early and comfortable retirement may well prove "hopelessly optimistic". Pension funds will need to perform well because 50 per cent of workers expect to receive retirement income equivalent to at least 50 per cent of their final salary. One quarter of permanent employees, meanwhile, expect a retirement income of 60 to 75 per cent of final salary, the study shows.

The Employers' Forum on Age is not surprised by these findings. "People are living longer and healthier [lives] and are likely to have three or four careers and a number of 'retirements' in between," says campaign director Sam Mercer. "The whole nature of 'retirement' is already starting to change as people stop and start work over a more extended period and even continue working while drawing a pension from a former career."

Age Concern, meanwhile, has mixed feelings about the vision of the future in "Tomorrow's Work". Rhian Beynon, a spokeswoman for the charity, says: "Any indication that older workers will have more opportunities to work longer in coming decades is to a certain extent a positive, but there is undoubtedly a negative associated with this if you want to retire but can't afford to," she warns. "It is frightening to think that the lowest paid are forced by circumstances to work longer against their wishes, while the better off increasingly choose to retire whenever they like."

Although flexible working and new technology will increase opportunities to work in a broad range of jobs both full and part-time, confidence and self-motivation will be essential attributes. Tomorrow's workers will have to commit themselves to constant learning in the job market, says Mr Leach.

Those likely to stand the best chances of success in "post-retirement careers" will be workers who have worked hard to update and extend their skills in the years leading up to their sixties. "Past Masters" are defined as workers from all sectors but whose skills are in the highest demand. They are likely to help foster an entrepreneurial renaissance, he predicts. "More worldly wise people will have better chances of longer-term survival in business in the future. Many think of entrepreneurialism as being all about youth and dynamism, but given the high rates of new business failure, a lifetime's experience cannot be undervalued."

Much, of course, depends on the future health of the economy. "If conditions worsen and unemployment rises, opportunities for all workers will come under pressure," says Mr Leach. "But whatever the outlook, a key message is that people should get real about their retirement provision today."

However, the viability of post-retirement careers will also depend on future changes in legislation and a true shift in attitude away from workplace ageism. "Yes it makes sense for there to be more opportunities for older workers to share their skills in tomorrow's workplace," says Ms Beynon. "But whether they get the chance is another matter. Age discrimination must first be addressed. While a handful of companies, such as BT, are now actively looking to retain older workers with IT and management skills, many others are not. For all the talk of shortages of teachers, it is the more experienced teachers who still want to work who are first to be let go when budgetary pressures strike."

Despite this, Mr Leach believes changes in the work market will encourage employers to create new opportunities for post-retirement workers. The point is, he believes, "that people should be in the position where they can make the choice of whether or not they want to take up the opportunity. This is very different from being forced into it because they can't afford not to."

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