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The UK economy will be under enormous strain, employers will not have the skilled workforces they need and people will be much poorer in retirement, unless urgent action is taken to support people to stay working longer, says the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). They believe an important part of the solution is to provide all adults with Mid-life Career Reviews to help them think, plan and prepare in order to extend their working lives with confidence.

Over the past year NIACE has piloted the Mid-life Career Review Programme, which included reviews for over 3,000 people mostly aged between 45 and 64. The Mid-life Career Reviews covered employment, training and health issues, and were designed for those out of work, facing redundancy, wanting to adapt to a new way of working (part-time or self-employed) or wanting to stay in the job they have. Four-fifths of surveyed advisers said their clients had improved confidence or motivation to explore career options and make changes, following the review.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said: “This country faces a massive cultural, social and economic shift as our population ages. Currently, one-in-six of the UK population is aged 65 and over, by 2050 it will be one in-four. A Lords Select Committee report, last year, found that Government and society are ‘woefully underprepared for the consequences of a rapidly ageing society’. Current employer plans suggest we need to fill 13.5 million job vacancies in the next 10 years, but there will be only 7 million young people leaving school or college. This means we are all going to have to work for longer and adapt to the changing nature of working life.

“The recent UKCES Employer Survey reported a rise in skills shortages which will hold back the UK’s economic recovery. However, a re-motivated older workforce will not only address skills shortages in local labour markets and improve productivity but it will also help meet the Chancellor’s target of full employment. People need support so they can plan and prepare sufficiently to allow them to successfully manage the second half of their lives. This means not only looking at skills and career aspirations but also at good health, finances and retirement plans.”

Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, said: “Almost one in three of today’s workforce is aged 50 or above, and it’s time we recognised the skills and experience of older workers and the pivotal contribution they make to our economic prosperity. Staying in work also helps people improve their finances and wellbeing and keeps our pension system sustainable for the future.

“All employees will soon have the right to request flexible working and we will be publishing a Framework for Action to help older workers stay in the labour market later this year.”

To address the dangers to our economy of the ageing population, NIACE is calling for:

  • All adults to be entitled to career reviews in mid-life and support at other key transitions like redundancy, returning from maternity or long-term sick leave and leaving care
  • Policy-makers, learning providers and guidance professionals to implement a lifelong approach to career education
  • Employers to support staff through career reviews to extend their working lives, offering flexible working and support for caring, pensions, finance, health and care needs
  • Support and funding to be found for the implementation of reviews and later life learning from a potential range of sources, including DWP, BIS, DoH and the European Social Fund which is being managed through Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Karen Phelps, from Liverpool, had a Mid-life Career Review after being made redundant following 30 years of working in the Civil Service. She now has a new job as a Progression Worker at Connexions. She said: “If I hadn’t had the Mid-life Career Review and the help that I’d had during the session, I wouldn’t have this job. I was just in complete turmoil at the time. I was very focused on getting a job and would have taken a job eventually but it might not have been on the salary that I’m on and might not have been using the skills-set that I believe that suit me. Instead I’m in a job that I’m enjoying, I’m using a skills-set that suits me, I’ve got autonomy in my work. Whilst I don’t think there’s a job for life anymore, if there was ever a chance of being out of work again, then I believe I’ve got the tools in place to cope with it better.”

David Hughes ended: “There has been huge demand and enthusiasm from people in many different circumstances for the Mid-life Career Review throughout the Pilot Programme. The Reviews have supported people in ‘mid-life’ to think through their options and have helped change behaviours and attitudes to the concept of extended working lives amongst individuals and employers. Providing the right support at the right time, will lead to people having longer and more fulfilling working lives, better health and more prosperous retirements – resulting in a much more resilient economy and better society