The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Claire Keatinge, has launched a report which shows that the economy in Northern Ireland could be increased by £2.3billion by 2037 if the number of older people in the workforce increases.
The Commissioner's report, entitled "Valuing an Ageing Workforce," was produced in conjunction with the International Longevity Centre-UK, and highlights the need for government and employers to introduce ways to enable older people to remain in the workforce for as long as they wish to.
Speaking at the launch of the report in Parliament Buildings, the Commissioner said;
"Northern Ireland is an ageing society, with life expectancy growing at an unprecedented rate – and this is something worth celebrating.
"More older people are staying in work, and more employers are seeing the value that older workers can bring to the workforce. Since the financial crisis in 2008, employment rates for people aged 50-64, and those over 65, have, for the most part, increased year on year.
"What is less apparent is the economic case for supporting more older people to remain in employment for longer. My research has found that economic output for Northern Ireland could increase by a staggering £2.3 billion by 2037, which equates to an additional 4.4%, if employment rates for the over 65s continue to increase.
"This shows that older workers can be more effective than their younger colleagues and make a positive contribution in the workplace, despite widely held misconceptions that somehow productivity and output diminish with age.
"Many people will want to stay in work, for a variety of reasons, such as the removal of the previous Default Retirement Age, increase in life expectancy, and for personal fulfillment; and some will stay in work because they need to for financial reasons.
"It is essential that appropriate supports are put in place so as to enable older workers to continue to be able to play a positive role in the workforce.
"This means introducing support for informal carers, flexible working practices, improved public health and promoting a positive view of ageing within human resource departments so as to ensure that older workers can be supported, whatever their circumstances. By working with older people to facilitate their needs, we can enjoy the benefits of a more experienced workforce."
The launch was attended by employers and employer organizations, as well as officials, politicians and the Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry.
Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry, said that he was committed to improving the employability of older people;
"My Department's Step Ahead 50+programme provides fixed term paid employment opportunities within the Voluntary and Community Sector lasting up to 26 weeks. Participants will also be encouraged to undertake training during their time of employment to gain valuable skills.
"I am also committed to supporting learning and skills development for those at all ages in life. Northern Ireland's six Regional Colleges and three Universities offer opportunities for all, irrespective of age, and I would encourage everyone to find out what is available for them."
Ben Franklin of the International Longevity Centre-UK who authored the report said;
"Policymakers and employers in Northern Ireland must work together to maximize the potential economic windfall, tackling existing barriers to employment for older people across the region."
Speaking on behalf of the CBI at the event, Senior Policy Advisor David Fry said;
"We strongly welcome the publication of this timely report and the challenges that it lays before the door of the entire business community. While much progress has been made in recent years towards valuing an ageing workforce, it is undoubted that much more needs to be done - and that by being pro-active in its approach, the business community can realise great value from being open to the report's recommendations. It is our fundamental aim to put Northern Ireland in the best place possible to enhance its attractiveness as a region to do business and invest in - our workforce, and maximizing its potential, is crucial to this and the demographic shift demands that we better recognise the positive role that an ageing workforce can play in achieving our goal."
Lisa McIlvenna of Business in the Community also welcomed the Commissioner's report, adding;
"Business in the Community supports the findings and recommendations in the Commissioner's report. There are clear links to other work that businesses are doing in relation to health, wellbeing and diversity, and this should include an emphasis on valuing an ageing workforce. We believe the issue needs to be addressed by the Executive and by employers as a matter of urgency, and we hope that the findings and recommendations in this report will be the trigger for action on this important issue."
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