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How will an ageing workforce affect the voluntary sector?

By Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing 28 November 2014

Mark Beatson is Chief Economist at the CIPD, the professional association for HR and development.

Between 2012 and 2032, we expect employment in the UK to increase by about 3 million (a 10% increase). This will be entirely due to more over 50s in employment, with the number of over 65s in employment trebling from 1 million to 3 million.

I presented these findings from a CIPD research report at a recent roundtable discussion co-hosted by CIPD and NPC, as part of a programme of events that will inform the deliberations of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing. Combining data from employers and employees, we did some modelling to illustrate the scale of the change we are likely to see in our workforce over time.

While an ageing population has been anticipated for a long time, only one fifth of the employers in our survey had developed a strategy for responding to this, or were in the process of doing so. Employers were more likely to say they would respond as and when they needed to, or that they didn’t see a need to respond, while about a fifth weren’t really aware or engaged at all.

There are, nevertheless, reasons for optimism. When asked about the benefits of age-diverse teams, both employers and employees were quick to cite increased opportunities for knowledge sharing, gathering different perspectives, and improving their understanding of customers. The main challenges identified were the potential for misunderstandings and a lack of shared values.

When it comes to the provision of flexible working and information to help employees combine work with caring responsibilities, voluntary sector employers are ahead of the private sector but less likely than public sector employers to offer the full range of opportunities. (This might be because public sector employers are typically very large and more likely to have employees with a diverse set of needs).

We discussed these findings with roundtable participants from CIPD, government, the private sector and the Commission. Although not all charities rely on volunteers, the impact on volunteering was a significant theme. Some organisations have relied principally on young volunteers who are going to be in increasingly short supply. Where volunteers have generally been recruited from an older demographic, these generations will increasingly be well educated and have considerable work experience. In addition, these post-50 generations will face other calls on their time—not just from paid work, but to care for younger as well as more elderly dependents. Charities may need to raise their game on the volunteering offer.

From a labour market perspective, there is a danger of some people in the older age groups being left behind, such as carers, the disabled and people made redundant. (If they did become unemployed, the over 50s were more likely to become long-term unemployed than younger age groups).

While the message is starting to be understood by many employers and employees, we are likely for a sustained period to be combining awareness-raising with the development of responses to it. For many people, this will create positive opportunities to combine work and other well-being enhancing activities later in life, and avoid the traditional retirement ‘cliff-edge’. The roundtable heard about companies that were starting to take steps to manage the process; for example, making changes to working practices or pension arrangements to allow employees to work for longer or take a phased approach to retirement. Where this happens, it will create opportunities for the voluntary sector to work with bigger companies.

Demographic change creates challenges for voluntary sector employers, but also potential opportunities to harness the enthusiasm and commitment of people who want to continue making a productive contribution to society well past retirement.