Implications For Governments
Scotland’s population is aging and one in three members of the Scottish workforce is now aged 50 or older. And our research is really looking at the opportunities and challenges associated with managing an older workforce. So across Scotland, Europe, the world basically, people are living longer lives, healthier lives, and that has implications for governments to look forward to, you know, what provision, what services we need to provide for in the future. Without a doubt, the workforce is aging in Scotland.
It’s aging across the UK but it’s aging particularly in Scotland. Age only became a protected characteristic in the last 10 years and many organizations focus on race, sexual orientation, and gender. And in many organizations, age is the poor relation in the diversity and inclusion agenda. From an industry sense, I don’t think there was much emphasis on the age element as a protected characteristic, to be honest. But now because of the demographic change, we need to address it. Age discrimination is first of all invisible.
The primary impact of the research has been three-fold: firstly, influencing Scottish government policy to put age into the fair work policy agenda; second, influencing employers directly in order to put the lens onto age-inclusive practices and policies; thirdly, putting an age on the employment agenda more generally. And the secondary impact has been on the workers themselves, the older workers themselves, meaning that they have a different experience in terms of their employers’ attitudes towards them and the practices that they experienced. When it became clear that, you know, there was an aging population, and obviously, there was the impact, and that’s where Laura and wendy Loretto came in.
So we commissioned the University of Edinburgh business school to actually look to the lived experience of workers over 50 and how the Scottish government can support them to have a meaningful work experience and actually, you know, help to grow the economy. Well, building upon a research history of 20 years investigating older worker employment we were commissioned by the Scottish government to carry out a piece of work specifically in Scotland, focusing on the needs, the attitudes, and the intentions of employers and their older people over 50.
Well, the findings from our 2017 study really confirmed findings from wendy’s previous research and were consistent with those. For many older workers, there are challenges associated with staying in the labor market. So, for example, health issues, caring issues in later life and there are also issues of perceived ageism in the labor market where older people find it difficult. I think the research done by arie and Loretto really did have a real-world impact. I think what it did was to inform the Scottish government of the barriers and the needs of older workers and how we can go about supporting them and supporting employers and allow us to take forward funding streams awards that actually help individual workers.
We used it to raise awareness across Scottish governments of the issues that older workers face. So it informed policy development in other areas, whether it’s transport, care services, care provision. The research was really useful and actually quite vital to inform policy development across the Scottish government. What we’ve managed to do with this research is influence Scottish government policy and the result is that this work has contributed to reducing the multiple barriers to employment for older workers. The age-inclusive matrix is a consultancy tool to work with employers to diagnose the age problems that they have and then to work with them to fix those problems.
When we were looking at the research that was available to inform the age-inclusive matrix work what we discovered is that very little of that is UK based and even less is actually Scottish based. The research paper that came from Edinburgh university business school was relevant because it was by far the strongest Scottish-based research.
Our research came up with a number of best practice recommendations which age Scotland integrated into their age-inclusive matrix. So first of all there was a recommendation that employers communicate flexible work opportunities to all of their employees. Lots of older workers wish to work part-time or more flexibly. Secondly, the age-inclusive matrix encourages employers to integrate age into workforce planning. Thirdly, to develop career development strategies for older workers and to ensure that training and skills development opportunities are available to all employees regardless of their age.
The organizations like ourselves at taqa participated in the matrix and it allowed us to look at our current policies and procedures to see whether they were fit for purpose for an age-inclusive environment. That matrix allowed us to sit down and thoroughly look at what we were doing and assess it based on that matrix. If we didn’t have the matrix I think we’d be floundering, to be honest. Edinburgh university’s research is one of the pillars that we build these social interventions on.
The matrix is now going to be delivered in 35 Scottish organizations, doing a real deep dive to make those organizations as age inclusive as possible. We’ve put an age on the agenda for employers across Scotland and beyond and in particular changed practice on the ground for employees over 50 in Scotland. Prior to the report being published, we very much worked with our members to provide guidance around creating more inclusive workplaces and around how we promote fair work. Quite often we would never have referred to older workers. Quite often we would never have referred to the challenges or opportunities that employers face in terms of supporting their older workers.
We highlighted it to the ministers, the minister for business fair working skills, and the minister for older workers and equality. And they used it as part of their awareness-raising to employers when they were at conferences, events, and speeches, for example. And obviously, it improved their knowledge of the need for policy to be developed to support older workers.
This research has had an impact on policy and practice in employing organizations and the outcome of that is that people aged 50 and over will have improved opportunities in the labor market in Scotland. I believe the university of Edinburgh’s work had a real-world impact on taqa as an organization to support our age inclusiveness. Wendy and laura’s work has had a significant impact on the hr profession in Scotland and the work that Scotland has been delivering with its members and its wider stakeholder groups. It’s made us think about our own research and insight in a different way and through the eyes of an older worker.
So the research informs our policy development and as part of our policy development when we come up with projects and funding streams we make sure that it targets the people that need the help. So I think it has an immediate impact on individuals and also employers too.
I’m really delighted with the impact that this research has had because I think there’s nothing worse than doing a piece of academic work that just sits on the shelf and doesn’t change anybody’s life, and so it’s incredibly encouraging to have done some work that we can see is changing organizations policies and practices with a real-world impact on older workers experiences of being at work.