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Menschen laufen vor Fahnen hin und her.

The Brussels Office of the Bertelsmann Stiftung

Brussels, 02/07/2012

How can active ageing be successful?

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On 20 June the Brussels Office of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the European Policy Centre (EPC) presented their joint venture project „Creating second career labour markets – Towards more employment opportunities for older workers“ to the public in the framework of a high level launch conference. The project aims to stimulate the debate on “active ageing at work” by identifying, analysing and comparing innovative solutions that can assist the relevant stakeholders government, social partners, business and individuals at creating reform initiatives in that area.

In front of an audience of 90 participants, Hans Martens, Chief Executive of EPC, opened the conference by explaining the project’s general approach. He was followed by the EU-Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor, and Ursula von der Leyen, Federal Minister of Employment and Social Affairs in Germany. Against the background of future demographical challenges, Andor and von der Leyen stressed the increasing importance of older workers and their participation in the working force, both from a European and a national point of view.

Commissioner Andor emphasized that successful “active ageing at work” in Europe is not only needed from a macroeconomic point of view, but also from an individual one. As findings from Eurobarometer in the past have shown, more and more Europeans are willing to work beyond the official retirement age, but for many the conditions for doing so are not met. It should be a priority in Europe “to give people who might not be able to work in their old job or in full time anymore the opportunities they deserve to participate successful in the labour force - even until higher age.” Furthermore Andor highlighted that, due to diverse practices and regulations in the member states, there cannot be a “perfect solution for all”, but rather a range of actions that focuses on the individual, local and regional level.

Ursula von der Leyen stressed that politics have to set adequate frameworks within which a successful ageing at the work place becomes possible. Legislative measures – like the German initiative to increase the statutory retirement age to 67 - have to ensure that career and working conditions are set to enhance working life, even though that sometimes means for politicians to “make themselves unpopular among certain circles”. Furthermore von der Leyen stressed the importance of life-long learning opportunities and called upon science to contribute to the discourse: “Evidence-based findings and best practice examples have to be identified across Europe to persuade employers to invest in the skill base of their work force: Success stories are by far more convincing than any political speech”.

The conference ended with a Panel Discussion, chaired by Aart De Geus, where the two key speakers were joined by Sven Otto Littorin, former Labour Minister of Sweden, and Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary General at AGE Platform Europe, a network of around 165 organisations of and for people aged 50+. Littorin declared that it is time to “crush the myths about old people not willing to work and that there being a trade-off between the employment of younger and older workers”. In his opinion there is no evidence for these perceptions and the example of Sweden in the past has shown that, provided with adequate frameworks and with the joint support of the social partners, a successful labour market integration for all age groups is possible. Given the right conditions, older workers then tended to participate longer and successful in the labour force. Anne-Sophie Parent from AGE Platform Europe addressed the issue of valuing the work of senior employees. She explained that for many of their members the main reasons to continue working are not the financial benefits arising from this, but “the feeling to be needed and valued”. Although it is true that more and more people need to work after retirement due to relatively low pension incomes, the societal loss of status often experienced with retirement weighs heavier, as many older workers don't view themselves as “old”.

„Older workers want to work”, summarized Aart De Geus in his final remarks “but they have to be given a helping hand in order to do so. Ensuring a successful `active ageing at work´ lies in the responsibility of all stakeholders.”

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