We speak to five people who have managed to find employment in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Plus we find out the support that’s on offer for older workers.
While many people dream of a life of leisure in retirement, for some, the prospect of no longer working – and not being active and useful – is not very appealing. For others, continuing to earn an income is a necessity.
But if you are determined to go on working in later life, just how easy is it to find a job?
Research by insurer Aviva reveals that the over-50s feel as though they have more skills and experience to offer in the workplace than their younger colleagues, but more than four in five believe there are fewer employment opportunities available. More than three in four older workers say older workers are discriminated against in the workplace.
However, there are moves to change this. The government has tasked the not-for-profit organisation Business in the Community with supporting businesses to retain, retrain and recruit older workers.
In February, Business in the Community launched a target of one million more older workers by 2022.To reach this, every UK business will need to, on average, increase the number of older people aged between 50 and 69 that they employ by 12%.
Rachael Saunders, age at work director at Business in the Community, says: “The UK has an ageing population and an ageing workforce, yet employment just isn’t working for many people over 50.”
She adds that too many people over 50 are pushed out of work through redundancy or health issues – or because they need to balance work and caring responsibilities.
“The UK needs to significantly improve older workers’ participation in the labour market,” she says. “We have an ageing society and it is essential employers act now to ensure employees can stay in work for longer – and to support career changes in later life.”
In May, the organisation urged employers to commit to the target and publish their workforce data of older workers by the end of this year.
Andy Briggs, chief executive of Aviva Life UK, was appointed as business champion for older workers, by the government last year – and is working in collaboration with Business in the Community.
He says: “There is clear evidence people aged 50 and over are confident of the knowledge, skills and experience they bring to their work. Many tell us they want – and need – to continue working, and have workplace-related ambitions for the rest of their lives. By 2020, more than a third of the UK workforce will be over 50. There is simply too much ageism – both conscious and unconscious – in our society which is leading to fewer employment opportunities to older workers. This needs to change.”
This is a view shared by Chris Brooks, employment policy manager at Age UK. He says: “An ageing population, the end of forced retirement and a rising state pension age, mean there is a growing number of over-50s in the jobs market. Using this talent pool will be crucial for employers as demand for skills and expertise grows. But while many businesses understand the demographic changes, concerns about the law and misconceived stereotypes can create barriers for older workers.”
Age UK is working to highlight the skills and experience of the older workforce, and speaking to employers to help them understand best practice in recruiting – and retaining – those over 50.
Mr Brooks adds: “While many blue-chip companies have recognised the business case for employing and keeping older workers, many others still have a long way to go. This includes understanding the need to offer more flexible working as well as support to people with caring responsibilities.”
Employers with a positive attitude to older workers
DIY retailer B&Q has long championed the benefits of recruiting older staff and more than a quarter of its store employees are aged over 50 – with its oldest current employee, Doris Higgins, aged 88.
The retailer offers flexible working opportunities for all employees, as well as a flexible retirement option.
Elsewhere, at Co-op Funeralcare, one in three apprentices is over the age of 50, while Barclays Bank and coach operator National Express also have apprenticeship schemes aimed at older workers.
Other firms known to actively recruit older people include JD Wetherspoon, McDonalds and Marks & Spencer.
“Retirement just isn’t for me – I need to do something active”
Mario Rebellato from south-east London has tried retirement, but says it just isn’t for him.
The 76-year-old started his working life in the Italian army, but then moved to London, aged 23, where he joined Austin Reed – and stayed with the clothing firm for 35 years.
“I stopped working aged 62, but after just two months of retirement, I decided I couldn’t stand it,” says Mario. “I had too much time on my hands and got bored. I needed to do something active.”
After contacting an employment agency, Mario was directed to the government’s housing department and spent three years as an administrator.
“I learnt a huge amount of IT skills,” he says. “But, sadly, as a civil servant, I was forced to stop working aged 65. The problem was, I still wasn’t ready to retire.”
At this point Mario approached Pimlico Plumbers, based near his home in south-east London. “I wrote to the boss, Charlie Mullins, and sent him my CV to see if he had a role for me,” says Mario. “I’d read about a 98-year-old valeter who worked for the firm, so knew Charlie would know all about the advantages of employing older people with life and work experience.”
Pimlico Plumbers hired Mario when he was aged 66, and he has now been working as executive PA to founder-chairman Charlie Mullins for 11 years.
“I just do whatever needs doing,” says Mario. “Working at this stage in my life gives me a sense of purpose and achievement – and I love the social interaction. The people in the team are friendly and respect one another, no matter what age they are. I think that working hard is in my genes – and hope to go on for as long as I can.”
“I want to continue making a contribution to society”
Rob Brown from Canterbury, Kent, has taken on a second career with Co-op Funeralcare – and aged 68, is now the firm’s oldest apprentice.
For more than 30 years, Rob worked for Kent Police – his most recent role being detective sergeant.
Rob retired aged 60, but then continued to work in various police civilian roles as an employee – before doing similar work but on a self-employed basis for 18 months.
“While I loved the job, I hated aspects of working for myself, such as chasing payments,” he says.
At this stage, Rob decided to look for a new role.
“Initially, I was employed by Co-op Funeralcare on a part-time basis,” he says. “I really enjoyed the job, and when the opportunity to came along to start working full-time – and to do an apprenticeship – I grabbed it with both hands. I was very keen to do the NVQ qualification.”
Rob’s role now includes arranging and conducting funerals, bringing people into care, and building coffins.
“I have managed to gain the skills and qualifications that allow me to be useful wherever needed,” says Rob. “I’m also making use of all the people skills I gained when working for the police – such as having conversations with people when they are very emotional. I go home from work each day feeling I’ve made a real contribution to society.”
Rob’s 62-year-old wife, Lynda, now also works part-time for Co-op Funeralcare as an arranger.
“This job isn’t really about the money for me,” says Rob. “I don’t want to sit at home doing nothing – plus Lynda wouldn’t let me. I’m fit and healthy and want to feel I’m still making a worthwhile contribution to society. I also hope to help younger employees by purveying a good work ethic.”
“I feel I am making a difference to people”
Ken Neill, 59, worked as a civil servant for almost 40 years in both London and Scotland before taking early retirement in March 2014 when he and his wife, Jacqueline, 55, moved to Yorkshire.
“We made the move down to York when Jacqueline was relocated for her job,” says Ken. “But I wasn’t ready to stop working, so started to look for a new job. Despite having worked for the government for almost four decades, I wasn’t sure how transferable my skills were. That said, I’d had lots of experience of customer service, and knew I also had good administration skills.”
Ken applied for a host of jobs in York for around three months, but with no success.
“I kept wondering whether the employers were looking for younger recruits with recent qualifications,” he says. “I also felt they were more likely to want to invest money into training younger individuals, rather than an older worker nearing the end of his working life – and I began to get a bit negative about the whole thing.”
However, Ken’s luck changed when he applied for a role on the claims team with Aviva.
In July 2014, he joined the team on a temporary contract, and was made a permanent staff member in October 2015. Ken’s role involves him answering a wide variety of customer calls.
“I was able to bring skills from my previous job into this new role,” he says. “Often customers are calling to make a claim due to a bereavement, a terminal illness or a critical illness. Every day is interesting and rewarding, and I feel I am making a difference to people at what is often a very difficult time for them.”
After requesting flexible working, Ken now works his hours over four days to make up his full-time commitment of 35 hours a week.
“This means I get every Wednesday off,” says Ken. “The break in the week gives me a good work-life balance, allowing me to spend more quality time with my wife.”
“I wanted to give something back”
Keith Thompson from Altrincham, Cheshire, only spent a few months relaxing after retiring from his job in the financial planning and wealth management industry last year before realising he still had the drive to work.
Keith had a busy working life, and after founding and managing Taylor Knowles Financial Planning in Lancashire, went on to become director of Altrincham and London-based Greystone Financial Services in June 1992.
Following 24 successful years, he stepped down as chairman in 2016, aged 72.
“But I soon realised that you can only play bad golf two days a week before the drive and passion to work kicks back in,” he says. “So I made the decision to move back into business, and joined Clarion Wealth Planning – a firm based in Cheshire – as nonexecutive chairman in January. After spending my whole career in the wealth planning industry, I realised how much I missed it – and decided to get back into the business I love.” Keith now plays an advisory role at the firm.
“I really enjoy having this role in my 70s as it gives me a real sense of purpose,” he says. “I also wanted to give something back from the wealth of experience I’ve built up over more than 50 years.”
As non-executive chairman, Keith is in the office three to four days a week. He adds: “I have made the role my own by ensuring I’m hands on,” he says. “The work is very enjoyable – to the point it doesn’t really seem like work at all. I do feel as though my mind is still being taxed, and there is nothing more rewarding than giving something back to an industry that you’ve dedicated your whole life towards.”
“I’m 80 and have no plans to stop”
June Shepherd, who is 80, joined Home Instead Senior Care five years ago – just weeks after an agency told her she was too old to work as a carer.
The organisation proactively recruits older workers and supports campaigns by Business in the Community’s leadership team.
June – a mother of five and grandmother of 10 – has always liked to keep active and busy. Over the years, she has worked in a variety of jobs while supporting her family, along with her husband, Les.
June worked as an auxiliary nurse in her early 20s, before her career took a few twists and turns which saw her working in a local factory making drill bits, and then as a forklift truck driver on the factory floor at Bassetts’ sweet factory.
Having undergone her medical training in her younger years, June decided that working in care was something she’d like to explore in her golden years.
“Despite being in my 70s, I still felt fit, and wanted to keep working,” says June, who lives in Sheffield. “But when I approached an agency, I was basically told I was getting on a bit to work in care. I came away from that experience thinking I was just too old to do the job.”
At this point, June saw an advert for jobs involving care for the elderly with Home Instead, but was worried that age was going to be a barrier.
However, Home Instead saw that June’s life skills and experience made her a perfect fit for the job, and she started working with the organisation a week later. June has been a carer now for five years, and has four regular clients: a lady in her 90s, two ladies in their 80s, and a man in his 70s.
“I go to visit 84-year-old Joyce Campbell every Thursday, and help her to do the ironing and hoovering,” says June. “I’m very proud I can still do such rewarding work and help others. They say you’re never too old to learn. I’ve had the best training I’ve ever had in this job. I feel very confident and comfortable in my work and have no plans to stop any time soon.”