Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Ageing workforce left on the shelf: Research shows lack of opportunities for over 50s

They say experience is everything in business, sadly this isn’t the case for a lot of over 50s, with three in four (72%) deprived of career growth from their current employer

  •  Three in four 51-60 year olds offered no promotion opportunities with current employer
  • 41% of workers in their 50s feel there is a lack of opportunity to progress
  • If over 50s are overlooked in the final 16 years of their careers, are businesses losing out on untapped potential and experience?

They say experience is everything in business, sadly this isn’t the case for a lot of over 50s, with three in four (72%) deprived of career growth from their current employer[1]. With a rising retirement age and the prediction that by 2020, a third of UK workers will be aged 50[2] or over, new research from leading UK job board Totaljobs and global recruitment firm Robert Walters begs the question –  should more be done to support older workers?

Over a third (37%) of people in their fifties are working in middle management or below, showing plenty of room for progression with at least another decade of work before retirement. Yet, even with the state pension age due to increase to 66 for both men and women by October 2020, the research shows that 41% of workers over 50 feel there is a lack of opportunities available to them at their current workplace. This poses the risk of over 15 years’ untapped potential as workers’ careers stagnate and their amassed knowledge and experience isn’t utilised.

When it comes to progression, workers in their 50s are uncertain of how to achieve this, with a third (34%) stating they are not at all aware of what they need to do to secure a promotion. Men are more confident, with 27% claiming they know exactly what they need to do, compared to just 19% of women.

It is not only a lack of awareness that is hindering people in their fifties from career progression. A fifth (21%) note that a lack of training acts as a barrier to their development. Of those who have had access to training, 90% have undertaken it, showing those in their fifties are eager to learn and are prepared to add more strings to their bow if the opportunity arises.

Overlooking the upskilling of older workers poses a risk to UK businesses - with two thirds of employers reporting a skills shortage last year, the older segment of our workforce could add value and boost output[3]. If progression paths aren’t made clear, 45% of workers in their fifties would look for a role elsewhere.

Alexandra Sydney, Group Marketing Director at Totaljobs said:

“Our research reveals a significant proportion of the UK workforce believe they are being overlooked for promotion opportunities. As life expectancy increases and the number of older workers rises, employers need to ensure they cater to the needs of all employees across the generations, lest they see a dip in engagement and productivity.

“Tackling age-related bias both during the recruitment process and within workplace culture is essential to fostering an inclusive environment that values longevity of experience, while also acknowledging that learning and development doesn’t become less relevant with age. Older workers clearly see the value of training opportunities, so employers should look to understand where this cohort want to upskill, or even reskill, in order to further their career.

“Alongside this, promoting inclusive employment policies and highlighting progression paths is essential in making sure experienced workers feel valued. Failing to invest in older workers could lead to them feeling devalued and ‘checking out’ long before retirement.”

Chris Hickey, UK CEO at Robert Walters said:

“The fact remains that older workers will continue to represent a growing number and proportion of the labour market and so it is not wise to switch off training and development opportunities for those reaching a certain age. Not least because of the impact it will have on motivation, productivity and diversity.

“Workers in mid-life have typically amassed significant skills, experience and knowledge that can be invaluable to their employer. In this candidate-short market – exacerbated by Brexit-related concerns and increased demand for highly skilled labour - companies need to utilise this opportunity and consider fine-tuning hiring and development strategies in order to attract and retain older professionals.

“The key takeaway from our findings is that an ageing and underused workforce is not an issue of the future, but a problem that exists right now.”

The research also identified some of the industries that are leading the way in creating opportunities for progression. People working in the insurance, environment and education sectors feel they are most aware of how to land a promotion (64%, 50% 42% respectively). Meanwhile, just 9% of people in sales, 13% of social care workers, 22% of lawyers and 23% of health professions feel that they know their route to promotion.

Some sectors create plenty of opportunity for older workers, with those in media (75%), HR (71%), IT (70%) and financial services (62%) among the most likely to have been promoted at their current workplace. However, many workers in their fifties experience a slowing of their career, with a quarter (25%) of those working in science, a third (30%) in health and almost two fifths (37%) in education having not been offered a promotion by their current employer.

For more information about Totaljobs visit, for more information about Robert Walters visit

[1] Totaljobs and Robert Walters surveyed over 1,000 employees in their 50s from Jan-Feb 2019.

[3] Totaljobs and Robert Walters Skills Shortage research 2017.