The importance of upskilling employability workers and tailoring employment support for over 50s
The Upskilling employability workers project, a programme in Greater Manchester which trained employability workers in how to better support older jobseekers, was created to address the barriers to employability faced by older age groups.
Elaine Smith, Senior Project Manager at Ageing Better, highlights the importance of introducing better employability support for older jobseekers.
Traditional employment support provision has not worked for people in their fifties and sixties. The data from both the Work Programme and Work and Health Programme has shown us that people in this age group are less likely to be supported into work than any other. In fact, the only things more impactful than age on a person’s chances of finding work, whilst receiving employment provision, is the length of unemployment and confidence. When this is combined with the fact that people who become unemployed in their fifties are twice as likely to become long-term unemployed compared to younger workers, it poses a huge risk for the workforce.
Many people found themselves out of work in the pandemic, and many people are forced into early retirement due to redundancies, ill health, or caring responsibilities. The combination of these two factors has led to employment support providers finding themselves with a greater number of over 50s on their caseloads than ever before. Some Key Workers on the Work and Health Programme in Greater Manchester estimate that 1 in 4 of their caseloads are now people in their fifties and sixties. While there are common challenges in finding work across all ages, people aged 50 and over often experience the compounding impact of multiple issues.
The feedback obtained from employment support providers, commissioners, and jobseekers alike suggests that help is needed to tailor the support on offer; it needs to be more appealing and better suited to the unique needs of older jobseekers.
In response, Ageing Better, in partnership with the Institute for Employability Professionals (IEP) and Ingeus, developed introductory online training modules for frontline employability staff. Using insights gleaned from workshops with Key Workers from the Work and Health Programme and Department for Work and Pensions Work Coaches, we developed four online modules. These modules covered common themes and challenges with a focus on the failings of past provision, skills delivery, employer relationships and wider societal challenges – those that are more prevalent among older workers such as financial challenges, health and caring considerations.
This training highlights the importance of focusing on people in their fifties and sixties, and ensuring they feel the support provided is appropriate for them.
Focusing on ways to increase jobseekers’ understanding and confidence, as well as providing resources and opportunities for reflection, the training is designed to help improve both soft and hard outcomes for older jobseekers. At the same time, it enables employability staff to feel more confident in their abilities and better equipped to deliver their support in a manner more tailored to over 50s on their caseloads. More experienced Key Workers found this to be a useful refresher and a reminder to not write off their clients based on age. One has been quoted as saying “For me it was a refresher on how to deal with those of an older age. Because I am older, I don’t always like to consider age as an explicit barrier.”
Although it was only a small intervention, our evaluation partners found Key Workers gained knowledge around the common prejudices and biases faced by older people, the ways to counter age discrimination, and were better able to identify appropriate resources to support older clients. The training was particularly impactful for those who felt less equipped to support people in their fifties and sixties beforehand, as well as for newer and younger frontline staff. We will continue to work with Ingeus and our evaluation partner SQW to monitor the longer-term impact on people finding and sustaining work after being supported by staff members who accessed the training and hope to have more data on this later in the year.
This training highlights the importance of focusing on people in their fifties and sixties, and ensuring they feel the support provided is appropriate for them. Training such as this, when embedded into support delivery and built upon by providers, can have a massive impact on people’s experiences of employment support and the likelihood of finding good quality, sustainable work.