He looked at why the employment system is failing to take older people on, the barriers for older people’s employment, and why there may be a negative attitude to older people in workplaces. The findings are summarised as the following pinpoints that reflect the main patterns of practice acting against older people’s employment in Cornwall.
- Performance hurdle
Some SMEs believe older people are not able to perform well: they’re not innovative enough, not productive enough. Plus, the business ecosystem in Cornwall is labour intensive – such as hospitality and tourism (including accommodation and food services), care and retail. In addition there is a low perception of older people’s IT skills, which also influences performance.
As a result, people in some SMEs are risk averse when it comes to employing older people. So they prefer to employ from their personal network – which as a side effect makes the rate of older people recruited lower and the probability of workplace adjustment for older people weaker.
- Health hurdle
There is a negative attitude to older people’s health. For example, there is the perception that they would take more days off compared to younger people, and would need to be paid sick pay as well.
Due to these health concerns, some SMEs may employ people they know personally or prefer to employ younger people. This negative attitude acts as an employment barrier and we call it a health hurdle.
- Manageability hurdle
Some SMEs think that older people are difficult to manage in the workplace, and may be stuck in their ways of working, not adaptable to change, or not willing to be managed by younger people. Again, these SMEs may prefer to rely on their personal network when recruiting or they may choose to employ a younger person.
After reviewing these attitudinal barriers, it is clear that attention should be focused on addressing these negative attitudes, and consequent sustaining practices that keep older people from being employed.
Most SMEs may not have enough experience of dealing with older people and these negative attitudes are not challenged.
- Location hurdle
The dispersed geography of Cornwall contributes to the high cost of public and private travel. Moreover, public transport schedules tend to be infrequent. Consequently workplaces are not that accessible for older people – through cost, time, and distance.
This pushes people out of the employment system into benefit dependency., which reduces their ability to own a car, and a cycle is created, where lack of transport leads to unemployment and benefits dependency, and so on.
When older people are not employed they become benefit dependent or go to the gig economy. We know that work satisfaction is very low in the gig economy – due to the fact that it is labour intensive and with low wages. Thus, the rate of attrition is high, people become unemployed and resort to the benefit system despite all their efforts.
The specific geography of Cornwall also means that the economic system is not that active and job market demand is both low and extremely competitive. Older people must compete with younger people who are more favourable to employers for the reasons stated above.
- Gap as a trap hurdle
All the above hurdles for older people’s employment leave their CVs with an extended period of benefit dependency – which is perceived by employers as an employment gap. Some SME owners look at what people have been doing in the last five years and assume a person is not good enough because they were unemployed. The gap acts as a hurdle, and these interlocking factors interact to shape self-sustaining negative employment practices among many SMEs.
To address these practices, a portfolio of policies is required, because if only one part of the system or only one hurdle is addressed, the others continue to interact with each other and perpetuate these negative practices.