Jobs at 50-plus: future-proof your career

The best opportunities for people with skills and experience lie in the fastest growing industries, including engineering, IT, healthcare, horticulture and green technologies. Sheila Prophet reports

Ignore older workers at your peril. That’s the message contained in a new guide from the Department for Work and Pensions called Employing Older Workers, which encourages employers to build a “multi-generational” workforce and warns that they will face skills shortages and lose an important competitive edge if they do not.

“Older people are the main untapped source of labour in this country,” says pensions minister Steve Webb. “Britain is in a global economic race and we’re moving towards a landscape where there will be a set of jobs that employers cannot fill with anyone but experienced older workers.

“A firm that doesn’t make use of the talent pool on offer among the over-fifties will be left behind.”

start quoteThere will be a set of jobs that employers cannot fill with anyone but experienced older workersfinal quote

The facts and figures behind his statement are eye-opening. In the next ten years, employers’ current plans mean Britain will need to fill 13.5 million jobs. But only seven million young people will enter the workforce. The result is that the proportion of older workers is predicted to rise from 27 per cent of the current workforce to one-third.

In fact, despite the recession, this rise has already begun, with the employment rate of 50 to 64-year-olds climbing from 62 per cent in 2001 to more than 66 per cent last year. So while job hunters over 50 are undeniably still facing discrimination from employers, the pendulum is swinging slowly but surely in our direction.

So where will those extra jobs be found? It might sound paradoxical, but while overall unemployment remains high, many sectors in Britain are in desperate need of skilled and experienced staff. And it’s the fastest growing industries which are facing the biggest skills gaps.

Opportunities in IT

The IT industry, for example, is worth more than £120 billion a year, and now larger than the construction or healthcare sectors. The increasing popularity of online shopping means it is expected to grow by 11 per cent a year, with around 140,000 new entrants required every year.

A job report published by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation found that out of ten UK sectors, demand for staff is strongest in IT and computing. Yet many employers are struggling to find suitable candidates.

Though IT is generally considered a young person’s game, older people with the right blend of skills are also welcomed, says Mike Saunders of the wonderfully named employment agency Wrinklies Direct.

“IT people with up-to-date understanding of the latest technology are likely to be taken up quickly,” he says. “But these individuals can be hard to find because they are the sort of employees companies try to keep.”

Other sectors facing skills shortages

Engineering: the Royal Academy of Engineering estimates there will be 820,000 engineering vacancies during this decade.

Retail: the creation of around 214,000 new jobs is expected as Britain recovers from the recession, plus 1.2 million vacancies created by people leaving the industry.

Hospitality, travel and tourism: these sectors will require 660,220 new recruits, ranging from ‘elementary’ roles to managers with high-level skills.

Healthcare: our ageing population is creating new job opportunities in the healthcare sector, which is predicted to grow by 11 per cent this decade, adding 263,000 new workers and taking on 936,000 to replace those leaving or retiring.

Horticulture: there is a crisis-level skills shortage in horticulture, with professionals needed to tackle the threats posed by climate change and disease but 70 per cent of businesses struggling to fill vacancies. This month the RHS will present the government with Horticulture Matters, a report by the industry calling for urgent action to save British horticulture and asking the government to prioritise horticulture within research councils and other funding areas.

Emerging technologies: a whole new category of careers is being created, particularly in the growing green industry, from renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines to retrofitting Britain’s homes to make them more energy efficient.

New jobs in green technologies

The government predicts its Green Deal could create a quarter of a million new jobs in the years ahead, and thousands of people have already retrained to become Green Deal assessors or advisors. Annmarie Blomfield, MD of advisory organisation One Green Place, says: “There is still a shortage of assessors across the country. There is no limit to the number of Green Deal Assessors who could enter the industry at the moment and, as energy efficiency is high on the government’s agenda, it is a sector with huge potential to grow.”

For a more in-depth guide, the National Guidance Research Forum, produced by the University of Warwick, has detailed information on current and future job trends in Britain’s top 25 sectors.

Benefits of employing over-50s

The DWP report has further encouraging news, saying that many successful employers report the benefits of employing older people, including a broader range of skills and experience, opportunities for mentoring new recruits, reduced staff turnover and improved morale.

Spencer Jacobs, director of specialist agency Forties People, says: “Older workers are a less risky hire for employers as they tend to be more interested in stability. They can be flexible, with no small children at home and take pride in their work, which is an increasingly rare commodity among young employees.”

If you are planning to change careers or are looking for a new job, Jacobs has the following advice:

Make your CV concise: don’t list every role you have had over the years; sum up your early career in a couple of lines. Keep it no longer than two pages and easy to read, with bullet points for previous job titles and the time you spent in the job.

Keep your CV up to date, including emphasising your skills in computing and IT and stating all the software you can use.

Adapt your covering letter each time: keep it short, saying why you are right for the job (give specifics) and why you want to work for this particular company.

Jacobs says: “In our experience, mature people are eager to learn new skills, including new technologies. A person’s age doesn’t determine their ability to apply new skills and technology – it’s in that person’s DNA.”