Although entrepreneurs are often thought of as young people eager to take on the world, there is a large sector of society over the age of 50 who, either out of necessity or for pleasure, want to tackle new business and do it well. For these people, Fundación MAPFRE has published a practical guide showing exactly how to do it.

TEXT: ÁNGEL MARTOS

If information is power, the Senior Talent Map 2021 empowers us all. The report by Fundación MAPFRE’s Ageingnomics Research Center offers an employment snapshot highlighting the light and shade of the population between the ages of 55 and 75. And it proposes changes to take full advantage of the benefits offered by the silver economy.

Any civilized society generates its own mythology that serve to explain the world. In the past, the Greeks recounted their stories in the form of gods and heroes and it is such a powerful synthesis that it is still with us today. Today, the universe of comics, after entertaining us, also helps us to understand some of the debates that subjugate us, even without meaning to. This is the case, for example, of one of the most popular and contemporary characters: Spiderman. His story, that of the teenager with extraordinary abilities fighting against evil, is also that of youth making its way against its elders, who in this imaginary world of Marvel embody all kinds of villains. Ageism is the negative perception of the gray-haired, and it can lead to job discrimination (as Hollywood actresses have been complaining for years). Indeed, it has become so pervasive in society that even in pop fiction it seems it is the law that senior characters should be used exclusively to represent the worst instincts. But reality has its own superpowers, and an insurmountable one is demographics.

This is demonstrated by the Senior Talent Map 2021, a report by Fundación MAPFRE’s Ageingnomics Research Center, which shows us a snapshot of Spain’s senior population (between 55 and 75 years old), whether they are self-employed, employed or entrepreneurs. In Spain, between 2008 and 2020, due to a combination of the decline in fertility and the marked aging of the population, 2.8 million young people (16-34 years old) will have been “lost” and 2.9 million active people over the age of 55 will have been “gained”. However, the snapshot has “light and shade”, as stated by one of its authors, Iñaki Ortega, a doctor in Economics and university professor. On the one hand, there are 4.1 million people in this age group working, 25% of whom are self-employed. On the other, “Looking at the data, we can affirm that there is a certain degree of ageism”: there are half a million seniors who want to access the labor market and cannot. Half of these jobless people have been stuck in this situation for more than two years. Moreover, the number of unemployed seniors has tripled since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. At the same time, “Our activity rate is lower than that of our European neighbors: there are fewer seniors in Spain willing to work than in other parts of Europe”, Ortega explains.

“Our activity rate is lower than that of our European neighbors: there are fewer seniors in Spain willing to work than in other parts of Europe”, Ignacio Ortega

This is not the case, for example, of Paloma Frial, of Paloma Frial. Her relationship with the food sector began at the tender age of 13 and at 66 she is now president of FrialTec, an advanced food research and development center that manufactures products such as Vidalim, an Omega-3 supplement that provides the minimum daily amount of the substance recommended by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for a healthy diet. Frial has not even thought about when to step away into the placid limbo of retirement: “I don’t understand the idea of setting a date, because life itself will do it… It will happen when you lose your enthusiasm or when you think you no longer have the strength to continue with what you are doing.”

Mapa de Talento Sénior 2021, un GPS para la economía plateada
Paloma Frial, 66, is president of FrialTec, an advanced food research and development center.

Frial belongs to that age range in which working, according to the Senior Talent Map 2021, is “very exceptional”: “The majority of active seniors are concentrated in the 55 to 59 age group (60 %). The next bracket accounts for 35 %, and from the age of 65 onwards the figures are irrelevant… all of which confirms the prevailing culture in Spain of an early exit from work.” “It seems to me that this is a very big loss of the knowledge acquired over the years”, the executive emphasizes, “there may be a great deal of enthusiasm, and in fact there is, because age is not always the reason people have more strength or desire, it all depends on the circumstances… I know young people who are 80, and not so young people who are only 30; I’m sorry, that’s the reality.”

The Senior Talent Map is, in this sense, a splendid reality check. So let’s take a look at the data: the population over 55 years of age in Spain comprises more than 15.5 million people, which represents 32% of the total. This means that almost one out of every three Spaniards is over this age, as well as one out of every five actively working people. Three quarters of the older employed work in the private sector, with the rest working in the public sector. The educational level of these workers has improved, although there is still a third who went no further than the first stage of secondary school. Proof of this improvement is that one third of men and 40% of women employees have a university degree. The flip side of these figures is that the unemployed population over the age of 55 has tripled since 2008, to a total of 508,000 people. In terms of the gender gap, there are more unemployed women than men.

The employment purgatory when you are over 55

“The chances of finding employment after the age of 50 are very low”, confirms Alonso Jiménez, a doctor in Psychology and also an author of the study (the third author is Rafael Puyol, PhD, from the Complutense University of Madrid, where he has been professor of Human Geography). Faced with this almost insurmountable difficulty, many seniors have opted for selfemployment, where they have certain advantages over young people, such as having a more developed networks of contacts, a stronger financial position, the ability to mobilize resources and to give legitimacy to their projects. Today, one out of every four people registered in the Social Security system is self-employed (some 900,000 people) and “In the 70-and-older age bracket, 72% of those who are registered are self-employed”, Jiménez confirms. Being self-employed, however, is not an “entrepreneurial” option, it is largely a necessity to remain active in the final years of working life.

The Spanish population over the age of 55 comprises more than 15.5 million people, which represents 32% of the total. This means that almost one out of every three Spaniards is over this age, as well as one out of every five actively working people

“I would advise a worker over 50 who has just been made redundant to avoid immediately establishing a cause-effect relationship between their situation and their capabilities”, recommends Benigno Lacort, CEO of Atenzia, a company specializing in the social and health fields. Lacort is 58 years old and defines himself as a babyboomer (belonging to the generation born between 1957 and 1977) with a lot of life and hopes ahead of him still. He is particularly sensitive to ageism in the labor market. But since there is no better way to send the message than by setting an example, his company has launched the Atenzia 45/45 program, which means having a minimum of 45% of the workforce over the age of 45. The goal? “To retain talent by trying to ensure long professional careers in a company, such as ours, whose great asset is the experience of our professionals.” Internationally, large companies are integrating various strategies into their organizations to tap senior talent. Amazon has the Upskilling 2025 program to equip workers, especially the most vulnerable such as older adults, with new skills, abilities and competencies. The Swedish company Vattenfall offers its employees over 58 years of age the possibility of reducing their working hours to 80% while keeping 90% of their salary and 100% of their pension plan contributions. Google (Alphabet) has created the greyglers working group, which helps the company advocate for the needs of older search engine users and their applications as they age. And the Coca Cola group’s Aquarius soft drink brand selects the best seniorled entrepreneurship projects every year.

Mapa de Talento Sénior 2021, un GPS para la economía plateada
© Istock

These pioneering initiatives are just a few examples of how good practices in human resources are beginning to catch on in the most conscientious companies. But the truth is that, as Iñaki Ortega points out, in job offers, “In a natural way, most résumés do not pass the first filter simply because of age… We should have blind résumés, in which your age is not visible, that do not lead to prejudice.” The fact is that ageism has become part of Spanish culture without any limits having been set by the institutions, and only now is society starting to become aware of the economic and vital loss this entails. As revealed by Fundación MAPFRE’s Senior Talent Map, the Spanish economy is suffering “a loss of opportunities in terms of wealth that various international studies have estimated at several GDP points.”

While we are only just recovering from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot afford to miss opportunities for development, such as taking advantage of the so-called silver economy, precisely through the people who know the market best. In an increasingly similar way to the fight against racism or sexism in the workplace, ageism needs its own movement to speak out against it. Just as the diversity of races and sexes in a workforce is a source of wealth, so too must age be. And Spain is in the best position to be the country of reference in terms of the silver economy, as the report confirms, “due to its leadership in longevity, the healthcare and dependency system, and its openness to the outside world.” This opportunity will be lost if seniors are not present in a labor market that must be naturally diverse.

But what makes Spain different from our neighboring countries in our concept of age and work? “It’s a set of circumstances,” Ortega confirms: “We have a generous and robust social welfare system that has allowed early retirement through collective bargaining agreements, which has been encouraged by both the public and companies.” In addition, the falsehood has spread that destroying senior employment creates young employment. All this leads to the fact that “Seniors themselves become ageist and end up accepting these situations willingly”, says Ortega. To combat this feeling of being “too old” for the job you are doing or aspire to, Benigno Lacort appeals to the superpower of demographics: “According to the Bank of Spain, in 2050 there will be two people over 65 for every three actively working people. In other words, you should stop feeling ‘old’ and start feeling ‘normal’”.

At the international level, large companies are integrating different strategies into their organizations to take advantage of senior talent

Mapa de Talento Sénior 2021, un GPS para la economía plateada
© Istock

Cuando la recuperación de los estragos de la pandemia por coronavirus todavía es tímida, no podemos permitirnos perder oportunidades de desarrollo como es el aprovechamiento de la llamada economía plateada o silver economy

At this point, which avenues and solutions can help build a fairer labor market for all? Elena Sanz, General Director of People and Organization at MAPFRE and a contributor to this Map, believes we need “a change of mentality in leaders, so that they do not write off talent after the age of 55, and a change of mentality in the people themselves. They must understand they have to continue evolving, learning and being part of new projects and of this transformation of skills that both companies and self-employed workers are going to need.” Redesigning the professional careers of seniors to include flexibility, both in terms of contracts and working hours, in addition to adapting the workspace to ergonomics, health and well-being criteria are some of the steps that many companies are beginning to take. Today, 90 % of senior workers have full-time contracts, although there is a clear difference between the sexes: 95 % of men work while this is only 80 % of women. In this respect, Ortega defends the need to look for temporary or part-time forms of contracting senior assets: “It is an opportunity, I think it is better to work under those conditions than not to work at all… Work is a way to socialize, have income, enjoy a better old age and better mental health.”

Mapa de Talento Sénior 2021, un GPS para la economía plateada
Benigno Lacort, the CEO of Atenzia, a company specializing in the social and health sectors, is 58 years old and defines himself as a babyboomer.

The role of the legislative framework is also crucial for the promotion of senior talent, as stressed by Íñigo Sagardoy, President of Sagardoy Abogados and professor of Labor Law at Francisco de Vitoria University. His ten proposed reforms include, for example, “Legally reinforcing the right to ‘generational equality’ through a full and more explicit recognition of equal treatment and opportunities regardless of age.” And “Extending the content of the current Equality Plans to the generational sphere, including protocols on age-based harassment.”