The COVID-19 pandemic has been the single largest cause of unemployment in recent years. During this time, skilled professionals across many sectors have faced unexpected redundancies. As of January, there are 407,000 unemployed over-50s in the UK. This makes 24% of all unemployed people. And, latest stats from the ONS show there were 109,000 more unemployed workers aged 50-64 between December and February 2021 than the same period a year before. As we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the pandemic restrictions begin to lift, it is time to turn our attention to economic recovery. This, by necessity, includes reducing unemployment. The question is, what is the UK government currently doing to improve employment rates?
The UK government has responded to the pandemic with an array of unprecedented measures. These have included loan and grant schemes, the furlough scheme, and tax reductions. The majority of the government funding is for businesses or aims to get young people back into employment.
One of the most recent measures is the Kickstart Scheme that provides funding to create temporary jobs for young people. This scheme is aimed specifically at those aged 16–24. Its main aim is to reduce the risk of long-term unemployment among the younger generation. Yet, very little, if any, similar funding is currently available for mature skilled professionals. This is even though they, like their younger counterparts, have faced unexpected redundancies during the pandemic. For reasons which we will discuss below, it can be more challenging for older professionals to get back into employment. This makes it even more crucial that support and guidance are available for them.
What measures is the Government using to improve employment?
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis in the UK, people have followed with keen eyes the government’s response on both health and economic fronts. Without evaluating the adequateness of that response, it can be said that support is, and has been, available in many forms.
Examples of important measures include Loan Schemes; the Restart Grant Scheme for retail, hospitality and leisure; the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (better known as the furlough scheme); and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. These are supplemented by various tax reductions and reliefs for affected businesses. But, when we analyse the government’s funding response to COVID-19 in more depth, it is clear that it does not cover all those affected by the pandemic. In fact, many people, such as those recently self-employed, have struggled to receive support throughout the crisis. Perhaps even more prominently, there is a clear lack of support for senior professionals who have faced unemployment. This is unfortunate because older professionals aged 65+ (33%) have been more likely to have been furloughed or put on paid leave during this time, as compared to younger employees aged 18-24 (31%) or 25-64 (26%). Clearly, we need to do more to support them back into work.
What challenges are older people currently facing regarding employment?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission defines age discrimination as being treated differently because of your age. It covers all of the situations defined in the Equality Act. These include the workplace, public services (such as healthcare and education), as well as when one is a customer in a business or in contact with public bodies (such as your local council or government departments). Despite the Equality Act, over-50s are much more likely to face long-term unemployment if they lose their jobs. This is due to ongoing age discrimination in the recruitment process.
But the truth is that age discrimination also happens in many subtle ways. And as a result, skilled employees can find themselves pushed out of the workforce before they are ready to retire. In competitive fields, it can be very difficult for mature professionals to get a new position. And even harder to find a position that corresponds to their skills. This is the case particularly when they have faced redundancy unexpectedly.
Xpertd is a community for skilled professionals whose employment has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We aim to connect people to opportunities that allow them to learn and share knowledge. We want to lower unemployment and ensure that we do not lose highly valued skills and experience from the workforce due to the pandemic.
One of our main goals is to connect individuals and businesses that can benefit from each other. We advocate for skilled individuals who may have previously faced age discrimination on the job market. Our community is built on the expertise of the older generation of professionals. We appreciate the potential they have to help during the upcoming period of economic recovery here in the UK.
How can the government help mature professionals stay in, or return to, employment?
Too many mature workers do not get the training and progression opportunities they wish for. This holds back not only a growing part of the workforce but also our economy. Many professionals in their 50s face the bleak prospect of no development opportunities, no training, and no continued learning. This leads to them leaving the workforce early. And why wouldn’t it?
Mature professionals often struggle to keep up with the skills needed due to technological progress. And yet, they also receive less training to offset this problem. Encouraging a culture of lifelong learning can help workplaces to be more supportive environments. Updating employee competencies throughout their careers maximises the potential of the workforce. But it is also more likely to keep people in employment longer. In the end, more needs to be done to both retain skilled professionals in the workforce and get them back into employment in the aftermath of COVID-19 redundancies. However, previous government-backed back-to-work programmes haven’t worked well for this age group, when compared to younger workers. It is clear that there are issues that need to be solved to achieve better results. Currently, a more targeted approach is needed to engage the older generation of professionals directly. It is also important to ensure that these programmes use communication channels that reach a more mature audience.
Can small businesses offer a solution?
At the same time as skilled professionals are struggling to get back into the workforce, small to medium enterprises (SMEs) often find it difficult to have the resources to recruit new staff. This is the case even when they are facing skills shortages. Yet, the more mature professionals often hold the skills and experience that SMEs so desperately need. Making sure that SMEs can access that talent is crucial for the economy – whether it is through providing volunteering opportunities, supporting recruitment, or simply connecting the right people.
Supporting small businesses’ ability to ensure on-the-job training for mature professionals could help them to retain their employees longer. This would also work towards a more long-term solution to plug the skills gap which many industries face. Training employees is almost always more resource-effective than recruiting new people. This makes it crucial that the government ensures training opportunities are available for all parts of the workforce. But how can we ensure that these resources are available to the older professionals? In practice, it might be necessary to stipulate that a certain percentage of funding is used to train over-50s.
Is upskilling or retraining an option for you?
For SMEs, mature professionals are a key source of knowledge and rounded experience in the company’s methods and client base. Keeping them in the workforce, or encouraging them to return to it, will discourage the loss of this knowledge. It will also encourage economic growth by maximising the potential of the existing workforce.
Learning opportunities not only keep mature professionals in their jobs but also help people to get back into work. Thus, contributing to the overall goal of reducing unemployment. Sometimes people who have worked a long time in the same position find, when leaving their role, that requirements for that position have changed since they were first hired. It can be difficult to be rehired for the same job which they left without gaining further skills or qualifications. At times, getting recruited for a more specialised role can also be easier due to the smaller applicant pool. In these situations, it might be worth considering upskilling or retraining.
What is upskilling?
Upskilling simply means learning new skills. The term upskilling is normally used for teaching an employee new skills to improve their performance in their current role. Often companies are willing to upskill their employees through additional or on-the-job training.
But it is also possible for a person to upskill themselves to become a more desirable candidate for a position. (In this case, a role they have already worked in). This can mean, for example, learning new skills or competencies, such as the use of new tools or equipment. In the modern job market, the most wanted skills are digital. For skilled professionals looking to improve their employability, good skills to acquire include touch typing, using software (such as MS Office), improving general computer literacy, and learning social media skills.
Computer skills courses are often available for various skill levels through online providers, adult learning centres, career services, and council resources. A lot of free learning resources are also available online. So, people with extra time on their hands can take the initiative to upskill themselves for better employment prospects.
What is retraining?
If a more thorough re-education is needed for a new position, this is often referred to as retraining. Retraining is usually necessary if someone wants to change their career trajectory – or when someone wants to be hired for a new position in which they haven’t worked before.
In the context of the pandemic, we have seen mass retraining of, for example, hospitality workers to work in the supermarkets or the NHS. In these cases, the career move is likely to be lateral, and the training involved is aimed at giving the employee the skills to work in a new role. It is also possible to retrain yourself by, for example, getting a new degree or learning a new trade.
Upskilling or retraining can be a good option for experts who have become unemployed unexpectedly or are struggling to find a new job. Choosing to upskill or retrain shows employers your dedication to your craft. But they are also great ways to update your skills and qualifications to meet the current standards.
How does Xpertd help with reducing unemployment?
The loss of skills and experience from the workforce due to the pandemic is a blow to the already vulnerable economy. Especially, when many small businesses are struggling to get through this uncertain period.
It is essential that we facilitate the meeting of people who hold these skills with the people who need them for their businesses to survive. Through mentoring, networking, volunteering, or project-based work, you can have an impact. In time, we also hope to see a stronger response from the government in terms of improving employment opportunities for skilled professionals.
The Xpertd Community is here to help SMEs to discover expert professionals who are eager to get back into work. Our goal is to connect people, help to lower unemployment rates, and make sure that the valued skills and experience of individuals do not go to waste. By working directly with small businesses and experienced professionals, we want to build relationships, share knowledge, and promote learning. Join us today to create a community that will make a difference!
For more information, you can also join the Xpertd Facebook Group. There you can meet other skilled professionals and business owners. We look forward to welcoming you as a part of our dedicated community!