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Work, education, skills and the 100-year life: How can policymakers ensure the workforce is ready for extreme longevity?

This report focuses on the future of work, education and skills in the era of extreme longevity.

Longer careers raise important questions about the future of work and education in the UK – is our education system built for the 50-year career? Are workplaces and employers adopting age-friendly policies? Do workers have adequate skills and training to thrive?

Living longer means working longer

 As life expectancy continues to rise, the number of years spent working is likely to increase. The 50-year career will become the norm. It is unlikely to be true that the career chosen at 18 or 21 will be the career of the individual when they retire. Changes to the labour market, technology and the wider environment could mean that at various points in a person’s working life they need to change careers and retrain.

Public attitudes to work and ageing

It has been estimated that people should be planning for five careers in their lifetime.  However, the polling shows very little willingness amongst older employees to change their current career. Less than four in ten of those aged 35 to 54 are interested in changing careers, those in the lower end of this age bracket have at least thirty years remaining in the labour market – to put it bluntly they are less than halfway through their working life.

Longer working lives will not just affect employees – it will affect employers too. The research found that employers were most concerned with issues in relation to increased pension contributions and time out of the workforce due to sickness / illness. The difference in the proportion of employers worried about the need to reskill or train staff was only four percentage points – with those not worried coming out as dominant.

Policy recommendations:

To ensure the UK workforce is ready to adapt to the 100-year life, people need to be able to undergo training and skills development throughout their life. In this report we recommend the following changes to policy:

  • Individual Learning Accounts – The government should reintroduce newly-designed Individual Learning Accounts. They should look to Singapore for ways to design the system so that it cannot be gamed.
  • Modular Learning – The government should take note of the recommendations within the Augur review and look at ways that it can support the provision and take up of modular learning. This should be complemented by an inquiry into the fall of mature and part-time students.
  • National Skills Fund – The government should use the money allocated to the National Skills Fund to focus on the skills and training of workers over the age of 40. Priority should be given to workers who are in industries where there is a risk of automation or industrial decline.
  • Employer National Insurance reduction – We recommend that the government consider offering a reduction in Employer National Insurance Contributions for workers over 50 who have been affected by structural unemployment and those who have been supported by the National Skills Fund (as redesigned above).
  • Enabling people to work longer – Where there is a benefit, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and GPs should be proactively aiming to enable people to work for longer, whether this be through advice and support or social prescribing of workplace health support.
  • Minister for Lifelong Learning and Training – There should be the creation of a minister who has responsibility over longer lives, work and skills. This minister would sit between DfE, BEIS and DWP.

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