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The Millionth 'Silver Worker' Has Arrived - But Let's Not Be Carried Away in Excitement

13/06/2013 11:39 BST | Updated 12/08/2013 10:12 BST

The age of the 'silver worker' is here! There are now more than one million workers over 65 for the first time. Doubtless the media will be full of comment about the greying workforce and a new era of receding retirement. Many older people struggling to find an employer who will even interview them however, will be pinching themselves at the news!

Certainly, we should celebrate the fact that people are living longer, remaining active and that their activity is contributing to the UK's economy. But it is a mixed picture we see of older workers who are valued and celebrated as success stories on one hand while others despair of the endemic ageism they confront.

Employment, when it is continued into later life, is certainly adding to the personal wealth, health and well-being of older people and placing them in a better position when they eventually decide to retire. So the millionth worker beyond 65 is an important mile stone.

But let's not stray into Alice in Wonderland territory - the workplace today is not yet fit for a population of oldies. We must get real!

Older workers bring skills and experience in plenty to organisations and in many cases their own initiative and enterprise to self-employment. But this important fact brings other considerations. Some jobs can be difficult to perform in later life - though most are do-able providing that there is give and take and a willingness to make adjustments.

Often jobs and workplaces need to be fine-tuned to reflect the practical realities that face older workers. Many changes - often small and not particularly costly - can ensure the health and well-being of workers is up to the demands of working longer.

Examples as varied as improved lighting, to more flexible rostering and shift patterns can make plenty of workplaces a lot better for people who find their sight deteriorating a bit or that standing up all day long is no longer possible.

Using older workers' experience in cleverer ways seems the obvious answer. It can benefit the whole workforce as well as older workers themselves. They can be valuable in mentoring younger workers, but there is not a lot of this being done at the moment. Too often employers are talking the talk - but not much more in this area.

Unwritten "tacit knowledge" transfer is something that many organisations would benefit from and who else to lead it than older workers who have long experience of processes, clients and so on? The Government's focus on the problems of youth unemployment parallels a neglect of policies designed to help the older worker. This is misguided. Both older and younger people need support in their vulnerable slots on the demographic spectrum of the workforce.

Look at the neglect of age targeted policies in the Work Programme and the difficulty that older people have in regaining employment once they lose their jobs in downsizing. Consider the fact that older jobseekers are more likely to be long term unemployed than any other age group and note well the fact that age discrimination is endemic at the point of recruitment.

So, welcome to the one millionth worker over 65 whoever he or she may be, but let's all take a reality check on our organisations' policies and practices before we go overboard with the rhetoric. This is neither the end of retirement nor a sign of an avalanche of baby boomers about to take over the world.

But it is a mile stone that should be treated as an important reality check point.