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The new economy is the grey economy

A report on older workers - Experience necessary the business case for wisdom - published 2 October 2000 by the Industrial Society argues that while internet startups have become synonymous with youth, the new economy actually depends on the over 50s. Falling birth rates are leading to reduced numbers of young people coming into the job market. This means that employers elsewhere are beginning to look more enthusiastically for older employees - especially as over 50s are much fitter and more flexible than ever before. Once ignored, employers are starting to appreciate the unique skills possessed by older workers.

The report states that there is emerging evidence from the dot-com sector to suggest that firms are increasingly using over 50s in the transition from startup to long term success. There is a new demand for 'new elders' possessing health, wealth, wisdom and strategic know-how. These indispensible older workers come in several types:

* Warhorses - seasoned campaigners who have gone through economic downturns in the past and are not afraid of economic cycles.

* Trusted Guides - consumers (for example, those looking for mortgage advice) prefer older employees with age and experience over the youthful and enthusiastic but inexperienced.

* Networkers - able to develop good business relationships, particularly with partner companies in Asia where, to quote one employer: "veneration and respect for age is important, and counterparts find it more comfortable to build relationships with older business people rather than with young dot-com entrepreneurs".

* Strategists - according to Ronald Cohen of Apax Partners, a venture capitalist firm that has invested around $3billion in the new economy: "young entrepreneurs are coming in and asking for experienced people; increasingly they're realising that they need this to get the business to the stockmarkets."

* Connectors - older workers with team-building skills can provide a balance in the 'lean economy' of new organizations.

The author of the report, Charlotte Thorne, author of the report, says that: "Society and pressure groups have traditionally seen ageing as a time of loss and vulnerability, ignoring changing demographics and labour market trends which are making the over 50s a force to be reckoned with. The current requirement is for knowledge. Businesses need people who can employ their experience and understanding, their networks and their strategic vision to add value to organisations. What businesses are really after is wisdom and that puts older workers in pole position."

Statistics presented in the report show that:

* People over 50 are returning to work at a faster rate than the rest of the population as demand increases for their skill. For example, over the last year the employment rate for women aged 50 and over has gone up nearly three times that for the workforce as a whole. By the year 2020, one in four of the employed populatione will be aged 50 and over.

* In the USA older people make up a tenth of the workforce but have been responsible for 22% of the country's job growth.

* The Australian economy created 360,000 full-time jobs between 1996 and 2000, the Australian economy created 360,000 full time jobs with three quarters going to employees aged 45 and over.

* Startups by entrepreneurs in their early fifties have double the likelihood of survival than those rted by people in their early twenties.

On the downside, many employers have been slow to see the value of older workers - the proportion of people between 50 and 65 who are not working has doubled in the last 20 years. A third of those in this age group do not work.

The report argues flexibility over the retirement age and the adaptation of the rules governing occupational pensions so that people can be partly retired and partly working. The government should also 'temper its enthusiasm for youth with a recognition of the values in age.' In conclusion, the report states that: "we must look to business to set about sweeping away misconceptions about age. The business case for wisdom is compelling, the demographic pressure for change inescapable. Once employers have recognised the value in age, the work of reassessing the meaning of ageing will begin."


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