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Older workers: the new order

Ageing is the consequence of the increase of life expectancy. Usual points of reference explode. The increase of working life is unavoidable and asks older workers and companies new questions.

Ageing population (one French out of 2 will be 50 by 2020) along with difficulties to finance pensions lead to an unavoidable increase of working life. It will be true for both older workers and companies, either large or small. This issue is not new. However, with the 2009 social security law (loi de sécurité sociale 2009), companies with more than 50 workers have to negotiate agreements or action plans to maintain older workers in employment or recruit them (see “Older workers: six avenues for action”). If no action is taken, companies will be fined. Even though this measure does not affect small companies, the move has started. They cannot anymore rely on the renewing of their resources or skills thanks to early retirements (average of 58 nowadays). But then, how to ensure that older workers are no longer an “adjustment variable” for workforce regulation and considered as a fully-fledged resource?

Companies take action

The “Direction Générale de l’emploi et de la formation professionnelle” (DGEFP - General Direction of Employment and Vocational Training) and the “Direction Générale du travail” (DGT - General Direction of Work) entrusted the ANACT network with a study on companies’ good practices. Tutoring, prevention of risks and occupational premature wear and tear, maintain and acquisition of skills … companies have a lot of ideas.

“ This study, along with 40 company monographs, reinforces our analysis, say Fabienne Caser and Ludovic Bugand, project managers at the Department of Skills, Work and Employment, ANACT. Companies can act because they have identified local issues at maintaining older workers at work. The study also questions us further: under which conditions work organisation can take into account specificities of older workers and keep companies efficient? Is there any work organisation more suitable to older workers? We can notice that companies encouraging and enabling learning, or preserving some organisational flexibility are more favourable to older workers.”

Companies take action because they have identified local issues at maintaining older workers at work.” Ludovic Bugand, Project Manager, Department of Skills, Work and Employment, ANACT 

A three-dimension employability

What does this mean for companies and older workers themselves in terms of concrete actions? “Employability of older workers essentially depends on three elements: health, skills and work commitment, add Fabienne Caser and Ludovic Bugand. This statement is not specific to older workers. However, some characteristics are specific to them. In terms of health, the proportion of persons with limitations in their work capacity increases with age. As far as skills and competencies are concerned, it is important to keep within companies older workers’ expertise. On the other hand, these skills are challenged by the evolution of jobs and professions. In that case, when older workers have spent most of their working life at the same post without any regular training, their professional evolution is more delicate (statistics show that older workers have less access to vocational training). Finally, work commitment of a worker with a long vocational experience and close to retirement is different from the commitment of a worker recently engaged. It is then important for companies to sum up older workers’ situation in the eyes of these three dimensions. Actions likely to be organised depend as well on work environment as on the persons themselves.”

It is not because we speak of older workers that we cannot speak of other age groups. A tool such as workforce demographics is useful to study populations at work by analysing their age, sex, occupational category, skills, health etc. If we combine workforce demographics and company’s global approach (organisation, position towards new markets…), companies can be helped to better benefit from older workers. And why not hire them?

Is there any work organisation more suitable to older workers?” Fabienne Caser, Project Manager, Department of Skills, Work and Employment, ANACT

Older workers: six avenues for action

Since January 1st, 2010 in France, companies and public administrations with more than 50 employees get a fine if they do not conclude an agreement or have an action plan in relation with employment of older workers. Agreements at sector level, company level or group level and action plans have to tackle at least three of the following fields of action: recruitment of older workers, anticipation of the evolution of career paths, improvement of working conditions and prevention of strenuous work, skills’ development and vocational training, end of career’s adjustment and transition between activity and retirement, transmission of knowledge and skills, and development of tutoring.

Explanations, resources, examples, and practical guides … everything is on the French website realised by ANACT : http://www.priorite-seniors.fr