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International Labour Day and changing workforce

By Ajay Gurung The unprecedented demographic transition in the form of ageing population has caused significant changes in the structure of global labour market. Demographic trends show that by 2050, two billion people will be aged 60 or over and 80 percent of them will be living in developing countries. With the problem of population aging, the labour force aged 60-64 will increase by 55 million between now and 2020. Recent forecasts reveal that the number of elderly people in the world, those over 60, will increase by 39% in the period from 2012 to 2050. This number will be higher in less developed countries than in more developed ones (66% and 33%, respectively).In line with this trend, unemployment issues should be considered as a global problem that cannot be fully resolved at the level of any individual country separately.
Within the next 20 years, more than 70 million baby boomers (those born between about 1946 and 1965) will be retiring. To fulfill this workforce lacuna, active aging in employment has been a long-standing issue at the global level. Increasing employment opportunities among older workers is essential to ensure that the labour market and workforce adapt to meet the needs of an aging population. The need to increase the employment rate of older workers has been translated into quantitative objectives intended to keep those aged 55-64 in work and to rise their average age of exit from the labour market. However, outdated stereotypes, unconscious bias and age discrimination all contribute to preventing older people from staying in or returning to work. And all these mean that age is one of the major hurdles that hinders successful job search. Other hurdles include low skills, lack of confidence, inadequate up to date qualifications, long-term health conditions, disabilities and the difficulty of combining work with caring. Many over 50s are affected by some or all of these factors, with older women facing particular barriers. Social norms that dictate the expected age of retirement can be slow to change, but there is evidence that this is already underway.
There are numerous solutions to overcome the barriers to fuller working lives. These can be split conceptually into the three ‘R’s: Retain, Retrain and Recruit older workers. Many stereotypes and prejudices related to the employment of elderly persons that employers usually exhibit to avoid employing them find no justification today and cannot be taken as valid arguments. Primarily, the demand for manual work has decreased, which suits older workers to a large extent. Similarly, due to the advances in medicine and better life conditions, the physical and mental health of elderly population have improved, which enable them to be able to work longer hours than it was possible in the past. Besides, the living style has completely changed in the last two decades. All this has led to a situation that even those who count as the richest and who can safely retire, wish to continue to work and feel useful to themselves to their families and to their society. The poor ones are forced to work even after they have formally reired because their pensions are small and often insufficient to allow a decent life. There is also a category of people that was laid off due to the crisis, who cannot exercise their right to retirement and hence want to find a new job. The motives of elderly people to go out to work may differ; however, what is common to all of these people is that they want to be actively working as long as they are able to work. Some wish to try new jobs and start up their own firms.
Aging is a natural process and healthy elderly people are an important resource for their families, for their communities as well as for the economies of their countries. Lack of policy, which will regulate these issues, forces elderly people to live in poverty instead of recognizing their active economic and social contribution. Hence, the goal of any society should be to give people an opportunity to work and be productive as long as they wish to do so.
(The author can be reached at: ageingnep@gmail.com)

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