Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Generations Working Together

It is 8:30am and I am sat in a studio at News International Headquarters being questioned why we need a new intergenerational model for work. As a recent graduate I am painfully aware that my generation are paying ridiculous sums of money to attend university only to find when they leave they are unable to find work. Meeting with 27 others concerned with this issue, with speakers from The Times, Youth Employment UK, and SAGA Insurance. A broad group of people sat down to discuss what has become one of the most challenging issues facing the UK. The UK is suffering dual pressure on its welfare system, both from youth unemployment, those aged 16-24 and those in the late 50’s nearing retirement age.  The unemployment rate was 20.8% for those aged 16-24 in the period October-December 2012 last year. The Generations Talking Together work panel confronted this issue by examining which direct provisions could keep both age groups earning.

In what has been termed ‘the baby boom crisis’ millions of ageing Baby Boomers on the brink of retirement not only lost their jobs in the Great Recession but also saw their savings diminish. Older people in the UK who find themselves out of work are increasingly being frozen out of the labour market, with limited chances of finding a job. Unemployed older people are being forced into early retirement with a lack of tailored support to help them find work. Nearly half (49.6%) of all unemployed men in the country who have been out of work for more than a year are over the age of 50, up from 44.8% in 2011.  Older generations are having to become flexible about how they work, whether this is setting up their own businesses or working from home. The Generations Talking Together work panel were faced with the issue of whether the government can provide a role in reducing benefit reliance in the over 50s. Looking at the success rates of business start-ups there is scope to increase the availability of enterprise funding for the age bracket. It has been shown that 48% of entrepreneurs over 50 are more likely to succeed in creating their own business than any other age group. Older workers are more mature, reliable and have developed intrapersonal skills for dealing with clients.

Those aged over 50 shouldn’t be pressurised to retire early but businesses should open up flexible working opportunities so that individuals can pursue tailored retirement plans. Flexi-time has proven to be successful in retail, communications and services sectors. Part time work provides extensive advantages to businesses by providing a full work force at different times, enabling staff holidays and keeping motivation levels high. Can this innovative way of working be transferred into other sectors to increase participation? There should be more alternatives for workers who are forced to give up work early, as often they require an income to support other family members. The UK needs solutions that provide more flexible part-time positions, with continuous training to ensure an efficient work force can be mobilised in different areas.

Youth unemployment is at nearly 1 million for young people.  A shortfall in jobs demonstrates a mismatch between business career prospects and the courses people are prepared to undertake at university. The government have tried to counteract the issue of youth unemployment by funding youth apprenticeships but the uptake of these has been below expected.  It is significant that the government have created attractive apprenticeship opportunities and yet those that it is tailored towards haven’t applied for the schemes. Which raises the question of whether the government’s decision to withdraw Connections, a face-to-face careers advice platform in secondary schools was wise? Connection advisors were placed in secondary schools around the UK and provided a service young people could identify with. The current system lacks appropriate opportunities to gain this crucial guidance. Focused career advice is needed to reduce the disparity between the skills businesses require and the skills students are gaining. Young people need to be given the tools in order to adapt to become more driven and resilient to survive in the current economic climate.

There is a perception in some sectors that those who have left university with a degree are ill equipped to survive in the work environment. Those in higher education require insight into the different skills that are required in full time roles. Mentoring schemes in the work place are extremely important so that young people can demonstrate their use of technology and more experienced workers can show trainees how to communicate with clients. Not only do young individuals require a substantial education but they also need to be enterprising. Undergraduates today need to have their hands in several different pockets at once in order to increase exposure to career opportunities.  

The Solution?

The key to solving these issues is increasing the flexibility of different work schemes. With a re-emergence of some paid and part government funded internships that can be accessed by people from all social backgrounds. New models are forming between the public and private sector such as the Birmingham Job Guarantee funded centrally from Birmingham City Council. The use of technology, specifically cloud computing has enabled businesses to provide services remotely to their clients. Perhaps this technology can be mobilised to provide workers connections with businesses to maximise worker utility. Businesses need to develop more flexible roles to support participation by working mothers and carers. Innovative businesses that are ahead of time already offer workers training remotely. Mobile computing offers a possibility to develop facilities to support and engage with those from a variety of different backgrounds to improve employment prospects. There is role for NGOs to form connections with struggling communities, such as providing an outlet for leadership roles and mentoring opportunities to those most at risk of becoming long term unemployed. It is important that different bodies work together to improve shared practice. The government can directly influence the amount of jobs available to young people by investing in sectors of the economy that have the prospective to grow. Funding has the potential to stimulate new roles in the fields of green energy, technology and care. Part-funded university scholarships in these sectors may well generate workers with the specific skills and training to work in available job vacancies. An important part of this process should be investments in green internships and leadership training across the UK, encouraging the next generation to become active at reinventing themselves and accessing work in new places.

The Generations Talking Together Manifesto, which tackles the issue of intergenerational work, will be presented to both public and private bodies to pursue these ideas further.