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Young and older workers, two sides of the same coin

08 October 2012
Two bakers
Many countries suffering from huge youth unemployment levels are also experiencing population ageing. Isn’t it time to start thinking of older workers as a category that deserves specific attention?

ILO News: Developed economies are facing two interconnected challenges: youth unemployment is growing and people are living longer.

At first glance, the answer might seem very simple: lower the retirement age so that young people replace older workers while the latter move into a well-deserved rest. But that would be missing a very important point.

“In practice, younger workers cannot easily substitute older workers. The evidence suggests that early retirement policies have not generated jobs for younger age groups,” the ILO’s Executive Director for Employment, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, said at a recent UN conference on ageing. Read the full speech.

One of the main reasons is that there is no fixed number of jobs. This constantly changes depending on the state of the job market. So when an older worker quits his or her job early, he or she is not automatically replaced by a younger worker.

Another factor to be taken into account is that a young worker cannot necessarily do the same job as an older worker who has acquired skills throughout a career.

The important point to make is that both young and older workers need jobs.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the need to create jobs for young workers. The ILO has spelt out a series of measures to boost youth employment, including a Call for Action approved by the ILO’s 185 Member States at the 2012 International Labour Conference (ILC).

A call for action for older workers
But what about older workers? Don’t they deserve the same treatment? After all, the number of people aged 60 or over will have increased 10 times in the span of just 150 years (from 204 million in 1950 to 2.8 billion in 2100).

According to Salazar-Xirinachs, what we need is a call for action for older workers similar to the one for young people.

“This sense of urgency is one of the reasons why governments, employers and workers decided to put the issue of demographic change and its implications for employment and social protection systems as an item for general discussion at the next ILC in June 2013,” he said.

What would be some of the policies to promote employment for older people?

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, as policies would depend on each particular country.But it is possible to mention some measures that have proven to be very successful.

These include developing education and training activities for older workers, training for older unemployed people, incentives to promote employment for older workers, and awareness-raising campaigns to challenge stereotypes about ageing. (see box)

Worth mentioning is also the ILO’s Older Workers Recommendation No.162, which spells out policy measures on working time and work organization.

“However, it must be clear that a prolongation of working life is not appropriate for everyone, especially for people in ill-health or who spend their working lives in difficult working conditions or with long contribution periods,” said Salazar-Xirinachs.

But to work longer people must be in good health, which means investment in healthcare and social protection is needed, he concluded.

Policies supporting older workers

  •   In Austria, the Austrian Industry Federation created a website with information on best practices for helping older workers keep their jobs.
  •   In France, enterprises employing over 50 people need to implement an action plan to employ older workers. If not, sanctions apply.
  •   Italy introduced the Programme on Income and Skills Support. It was initially designed for 2009-2010 but has been extended to 2012.
  •   Slovenia promoted “active ageing” in 2010 by setting upeducation and training options for older workers and older unemployed as well as awareness-raising campaigns against discrimination on ageing.
  •   As part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the targeted Initiative for Older Workers was introduced in 2006 to ensure that older workers living in vulnerable communities have access to training and employment programmes.
  •   Germany set up a programme called Perspektive 50+ that includes incentives for public and private sector to support long-term unemployed aged 50+ back into work.
  •   In the United States, One-Stop Career Centers and the Senior Community Service Employment Program provide job search assistance to older workers.


Also see