What is Ireland doing to protect older workers from technological changes?

Posted on Monday, 30 September 2019
Job Centre

A recent report from SOLAS on Older Workers concludes that measures must be taken to protect older workers from the threat of technological changes in the workplace.  The report is focussed on workers aged 50-59 and among the key findings are:

  • Since 2008 there has been an increase of 330,000 people aged 50 years or over resident in Ireland;
  • There were 425,800 people aged 50-59 in employment in Q4 2018;
  • Over 176,000 people aged 50-59 in employment had attained an educational qualification of upper secondary or less;
  • The labour force participation rate for people aged 50-59 is just over 75%;
  • Since 2008 the female participation rate for the 50-59 age group increased significantly from 59% to 66%;
  • Technological change will have the greatest impact on people employed in elementary, administrative, sales and operative roles;
  • Approximately one third (146,300) of workers aged 50-59 employed in these occupations.

The SOLAS report found that engagement with lifelong learning declines with age, and that those with lower educational qualifications are less likely to take part in lifelong learning.  Conversely this is the very group that lifelong learning policy should be targeting.  In fact those engaged in lifelong learning are more likely to be professionals than low-skilled operatives and employed in public administration, professional services and finance, sectors that are more likely to provide in-house training, continuous professional development and have policies for subsidising education, than the retail or construction sectors.  Employers must be encouraged and incentivised to participate in the development of any lifelong learning strategies.  This not only supports the development of the employee, but contributes to the retention rate and effectiveness of the business, which in turn reduces the costs associated with hiring and developing new staff.

The findings of this report point to the need to focus education and training policy on ensuring that this group of workers are supported and given opportunities to upskill and reskill.  To this end Social Justice Ireland makes the following policy proposals to Government:

  • Access to lifelong learning should be an integral part of the education system in order to address the income and labour market challenges that some members of society face;
  • Commit to reach the lifelong learning target set out in the National Skills Strategy and ensure sufficient resources are made available;
  • Invest in human capital through targeted education and training programmes, especially for older workers and those in vulnerable employment;
  • Develop an integrated skills development, vocation training, apprenticeship and reskilling strategy as part of the lifelong learning strategy and the Human Capital Initiative;
  • Retraining and support for those communities and workers who will be most impacted by loss of employment.