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How Can Local Enterprise Partnerships Ensure Older Workers Are Used More Effectively to Achieve Economic Growth?

12/09/2014 12:52 BST | Updated 11/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Yesterday I attended a meeting of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) together with various Jobcentre Plus and DWP people in Stoke on Trent. Its purpose was to consider the above question. The Minister for Pensions, Steve Webb, was not there (he sent a supportive message).

The new Government appointed Older Workers' Business Champion Ros Altmann gave support, with contributions from others, including me presenting on the work of TAEN and taking the opportunity to award the AARP Best Employers International Award to - Stoke City Council!

My basic point was that LEPs should use the new EU structural funds at their disposal to support exemplary projects using innovative ideas and transferring successful practices. (This is what the Nottingham Trent University project Work Age is all about, mentioned by Professor Peter Totterdill this week at a presentation at the TUC in Liverpool).

Projects should be holistic - the problems and barriers facing people in gaining and retaining work are rarely to do with one single problem or issue, like lack of ITC skills, even though at an individual level such things may indeed figure large.

Barriers need to be tackled in a joined up way. This is one reason why the Mid Life Career Review concept is of interest - it has tended towards the holistic approach. Moving someone on and ensuring they remain active can be achieved by taking the barriers apart one at a time and supporting individuals in finding solutions to them.

Issues as disparate as literacy, health, mobility and availability of transport can all come together in a single individual and make job seeking problematic for him or her. Tackling problems in this joined up way is the stuff of "age management" as practiced in countries such as Germany and Finland.

Employers often understand the risks of specific jobs or sectors. They need to drill deeper and find ways of eliminating (or reducing) risks or at least, remedy their effects. The techniques of demographic risk analysis and age management in this way are not necessarily hard to learn but they do require both leadership and (I would argue) a high level of workforce collaboration if they are to take off.

We need too, to place an emphasis on engagement with employees over prevention of loss of employability and working capacity or "work ability," if we are to prevent them losing their jobs or be in a position where they are out of work and hard to place.

Once out of work for 6 months in your 50s it becomes very hard to return, not least for the simple reason that the labour market is age biased. An out of work older person is not likely to be seized upon by recruiters.

(Incidentally, this fact rather calls into question the veracity of one of Ros Altmann's suggestions, that older workers - who have the world at their feet - could benefit by taking time out on year long or six months long sabbaticals. Nice idea Ros but think of it practically - it would be disastrous to many older workers who then try to recover their jobs with another employer.)

The LEPs could do a lot worse than put together consortia of employers and trainers to develop the skills and leadership to "age manage" in leaders and managers. Arguably, such skills should be part of every manager's bag of tools. More than this however, they need to stress the means of engagement with employees in this process.

The TUC fringe meeting (which Peter Totterdill addressed and at which I too was present) highlighted, I believe, the depth and growth of interest in all the issues around making workplaces fit for older workers and older workers fit for the jobs that business needs them to do.

So what could the LEPs do to use these ideas to boost jobs and growth? Sensitising advisers of older job seekers to the issues and helping to build managerial leadership in age management, certainly. But finding ways to build on the notion of social partnership and dialogue are crucial points and mustn't be forgotten.