From education to employment

OECD Figures Indicate Troubles Ahead in #AgingPopulation

Across the globe, people are becoming more and more aware of the problems that lie in wait for us as figures indicate that populations in the so ““ called “developed” world are living longer than ever.

Few will be unaware of the impact that this has in the employment sector, with Japan no longer boasting employment opportunities as were offered in the 1970s and 1980s partly due to the increasing percentage of their population who are past the usual retirement age. Closer to home, the spate of pensions crises coupled with the recent move by the Government to raise the age for mandatory retirement indicates that the problem is starting to trouble those at the very heart of decision ““ making and planning our economy’s future.

With this in mind, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have issued a report on the policies and employment practices of the United States, entitled Old Glory. And for those who are concerned with the prospect of a growing pension burden placed upon a shrinking work ““ force, the figures do make grim reading.

The Changing Times

The findings of this particular report are focussed specifically upon the United States, and make for startling conclusions. It is believed that, by 2030, almost a fifth of the American population will be aged 65 or over, as compared with one eighth at present. Furthermore, the balance between those working and those claiming pensions will have altered significantly. It is believed that the ratio of workers to retirees will decline from over 3 to 1 in 2000 to around 2 to 1 in 2030, which will have obvious impacts upon fiscal policies.

The report paints a slightly ““ one should say comparatively ““ positive picture for the United States as compared with other OECD countries, due in part to the larger proportion of older workers in the workforce and in part to the lower proportion of State funding allocated to social welfare. And recommendations are made regarding raising the retirement age to 64, and cutting tax advantages for retirement schemes. But if the report highlights these cosmetic changes, surely something more substantial must be needed?

Skills and Changing Attitudes

If the problem is serious in the United States, then it must be even more so in the European states where social benefits are more readily financed in general than in the world’s latest super ““ power. The report suggests that Governments must “do more to keep older workers on the payroll,” whilst recognising the difficulties that must be faced in so doing.

And thus, it all comes down to the potential for Further Education to save the day! The FE sector would be ideally placed to provide continuing adult learning opportunities for any older worker that might need to update their skills ““ in line with recent reports indicating that a nineteen year old today is likely to need to retrain for new positions and skills five times during a working lifetime (maybe that will be six times, should these OECD findings be accepted and people work for longer).

Just as importantly organisations such as the Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL) in conjunction with unions such as the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and UNISON would be best placed to offer training and guidance in the workplace to ensure that there are no instances of ageist discrimination, and to better educate colleagues.

This would not solve all issues, of course ““ there are concerns over the increase in absenteeism through illness and higher insurance costs to the employer. For their part, it is not certain that an older person would want to stay on working ““ it is entirely possible that many would prefer to rest and enjoy their retirement! The onus then will fall on the Government to make this more attractive to both older workers and to employers; however, the cut in post 19 education funding this year does not augur well.

Jethro Marsh

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