Magazine article World of Work

Responding to the DEMOGRAPHIC Challenge

Magazine article World of Work

Responding to the DEMOGRAPHIC Challenge

Article excerpt

As populations age around the world, governments and employers' and workers' organizations are looking to ways to meet the challenge posed by fast-changing demographics. In advanced economies, striking a balance between ensuring employment for workers of all ages and providing sufficient social protection coverage for the unemployed, sick and retired is proving to be key.

There will be more people over 60 than children under 10 globally by 2030. While healthier and longer-living populations are cause for celebration, declining fertility rates and ageing populations have potentially significant implications for economic growth and labour markets.

The slow pace of recovery from the financial crisis in advanced economies has accentuated the challenges posed by demographic change. Job opportunities are scant, and persistent high unemployment rates reduce contributions to - but increase demand on - social security systems, which are under additional pressure from spending cuts in some countries.

Youth and people over 50 years old tend to feel the brunt of economic crises. Very often they are the first to lose their jobs and the last ones to re-enter the labour market. A new ILO report - Employment and social protection in the new demographic context - finds that older workers in particular are affected by long-term unemployment.

Brian Cody, from Ipswich, Massachusetts in the United States, is 60 and looking for work. He had always been able to find employment in the past, but since losing his job as a marketing director at the height of the economic crisis in 2008 he has been unemployed.

"I've been unable to find any type of full-time employment at salaries not even half what I used to earn," Cody says.

The most difficult part of being unemployed, he says, is convincing others that he still has something to contribute to an employer, the economy, and society in general.

PROMOTING OPPORTUNITIES FOR OLDER WORKERS

Initiatives to promote employment of older workers are increasingly on the policy agenda.

In Germany, the Government has launched a national programme called 50plus, designed to encourage retention and employment of older workers.

The initiative includes job application and communication skills training, internships and wage subsidies. In 2011, the programme helped more than 200,000 out of 550,000 older long-term unemployed people to be "re-activated" into the labour market.

In the United Kingdom, over a quarter of the staff working at B&Q, a "do it yourself" superstore chain, are over 50 years old. The company, part of the Kingfisher retail group, says it sees real benefits from retaining and hiring older workers.

"Older workers have greater life experience, which means they can pass on their knowledge and skills to customers and younger members of staff," a B&Q spokesperson says.

While efforts to ensure employment opportunities for all people of pre-retirement age are broadly welcomed, there is concern for those who have to work into later life to supplement their income, or who cannot find work. The ILO report suggests that there is a need to strike a balance, with "adequate measures to promote productive employment among older persons willing to work and sufficient social protection for those either unemployed or retired".

SUSTAINING SOCIAL PROTECTION SYSTEMS

Ensuring that social protection systems continue to provide for populations in a new demographic context is a major challenge. …

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