The ageing of the population is an undeniable phenomenon that is happening across Europe. Data from the European Statistics Office (Eurostat) confirms that, in the European Union, the number of people over 65 years of age now accounts for more than 20% of the total population. Fewer births and longer life expectancy are the reasons behind this demographic phenomenon. A reality that, however, does not correlate with the employment situation of one group of workers, older adults, who continue to be systematically displaced from the labor market.
TEXT: RAMÓN OLIVER
The II Map of Senior Talent- Spain in the European context, prepared by Fundación MAPFRE’s Ageingnomics Research Center, has been drawn up using a representative sample from seven countries: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Sweden and Portugal. The selected nations belong to the three major European geographical groups (North, Central and South) and their total population represents more than 70% of the EU as a whole.
Senior talent management country by country
Among the main findings of this study, it is worth highlighting the following:
- Germany has the EU’s highest share of employed older adults. Its companies in the automotive sector are also a benchmark for good practice.
- Portugal has high percentages of self-employed senior workers and companies with sophisticated wage incentive programmes for the over 50s.
- France is very advanced in terms of gender equality in senior employment. Its multinationals in the financial sector stand out for their agefriendly programmes.
- Italy shows the highest growth in older worker employment in the EU. Good practices in the training of seniors in both reskilling and upskilling stand out. • Of all the countries analysed, Poland is where senior female employment has shown the strongest growth.
- Sweden is a role model for all indicators and has the best activity and employment rates for older people in the whole of the EU.
- Spain is improving its data in terms of both employment and entrepreneurship. However, the figures are still far from those of Sweden (65 % employment rate in Spain compared to 85 % in Sweden) and ten points below the European average. Analysts at the Ageingnomics research center estimate that reducing this gap would allow an increase in the national GDP of between five and ten points.
The case of Spain
In Spain, one out of every three unemployed people is over the age of 50. Half of these workers are long-term unemployed. Moreover, Spain is the country with the highest unemployment rate among older women. These figures do not quite square with the rhetoric of inclusion and the fight against age discrimination that is so emphatically voiced by authorities and companies. And, above all, these figures are evidence of a waste of talent which, as Íñigo Sagardoy, Professor of Labor Law at the Francisco de Vitoria University and President of Sagardoy Abogados, points out, “Spain cannot afford”.
The Self-employed and Entrepreneurs
Being self-employed, either as a freelancer or an entrepreneur, has emerged as one of the main ways for senior professionals to revive their careers and make the most of their experience. This is particularly true in Spain, where the entrepreneurship rates of seniors (55-64 years old) are the highest on the continent. This shows that Spanish seniors are the most entrepreneurial Europeans. Ready and willing… or doing what they have to? The vast majority resort to self-employment more out of necessity than out of entrepreneurial vocation.
Advantages of seniors
For a company, there are many advantages to employing experienced workers. Resilience, analytical skills, critical thinking, pressure tolerance, commitment, and the simple —but decisive— fact of having lived through many experiences and situations in the past are just some of the things they bring to the table. At the other extreme, a certain reluctance to change, a supposed lack of flexibility and a seemingly insurmountable digital divide are often the reasons cited to justify the low hiring rates of the 50+ segment.
Many of these objections, however, stem from cultural stereotypes that are deeply rooted and perpetuated in companies. These clichés do a lot of harm because, in addition to being unsupported by evidence, they widen the divide between generations instead of trying to bring them together.
Spain’s senior employment rate is ten points below the European average. Experts are calling for measures to boost this figure
Is there really a digital divide?
The supposed inability of older people to handle digital environments is one of the biggest pitfalls that the Spanish labor market has set for itself. On the one hand, companies complain that there are not enough specialists to fill the vacancies for the technological roles demanded by the digital revolution. But, on the other hand, they do not seem willing to consider options other than filling them with Generation Zs or, in the worst case scenario, millennials. In other words, seniors are required to be flexible, but the labor market is incapable of demonstrating this characteristic because it refuses to remove the “analog” label.
In an increasing variety of fields, it is insisted that the solution to this equation lies in broadening the generational spectrum and in providing good technological refresher training to older people in order to adapt their skills to the new digital needs. It would also greatly enrich the approach to this type of project since it would introduce perspectives that are different from the typical ones found in this sector.
Companies themselves are among the first to realize the immense wealth of talent they are missing out on by turning their backs on grey hair. Along these lines, Íñigo Sagardoy urges companies to change the model through leading by example. “Good business practices are a very effective driving force for companies and organizations of all kinds to help them realize that senior talent is an ally that tends to make them more competitive and productive.”
The study carried out by Fundación MAPFRE’s Ageingnomics Research Center offers a series of recommendations to improve the employment situation of older adults in Spain.
- A great national pact to promote senior employment that nips the waste of older Spanish talent in the bud. This commitment would include the main agents involved in employment in Spain, from public authorities to political parties, trade unions, large companies and business associations.
- Approval of a legislative package for senior work in which the formula for combining pensions and work is improved, early retirement and preretirement are penalized, and there is express recognition of generational equality rights, as well as the fight against ageism in the workplace.
- Measures based on corporate responsibility with the urgent adoption, extension and promotion of programmes in the field of senior talent.
- Regulatory and cultural changes that allow people to work longer. All levels must understand that working longer will become an unavoidable necessity, which will benefit people’s physical, mental and economic health as well as society as a whole.
- In Spain, it is urgent to achieve better senior employment figures in the over-60 age bracket, to get more senior women into the labour market and to extend the formula of part-time work as a way of staying in the labor market.
- Self-employment and entrepreneurship among seniors should be encouraged by the public authorities with attractive tax breaks, public aid and reduced selfemployment contributions.
- Lifelong learning for Spanish workers over the age of 50 is a pending issue that the authorities, but also companies, must overcome through new professional retraining programmes (reskilling and upskilling).
- The organization and implementation of senior activism in Spain is required, promoted by civil society, to help make this group visible and to denounce and impede flagrantly ageist actions by the authorities and companies.
- Finally, older adults themselves need to be made aware that, however attractive it may seem to bring forward the official retirement age, stopping work when they still have a long life ahead of them is economically unfeasible and harmful to their physical and emotional health.