Jürgen Siegmann

Older workers: Reducing barriers to participation in the workforce

The implications of demographic change mean that more and more older people are working longer. Reforms in Germany such as the pension at 67 policy are facilitating this trend. How can the employability of older workers be maintained so as to ensure their inclusion in the workforce?

Germany is not alone in facing the increasingly stark challenges of demographic change. In most EU member states, the combined effect of declining birth rates and an increasing life expectancy means that workforce numbers will fall in the long term while the average age of the population will steadily rise. In addition to its broader implications, this development is changing the structure of the older workforce labor market. Whereas until recently, workers over 50 were being pushed out of the labor market through early retirement programs, measures today, such as the pension at 67 policy, aim to extend time in employment.

The goal is to keep older workers working longer in order to mitigate the demographic pressures bearing on social security systems. As health and life expectancy improve more broadly, older workers are increasingly more able to stay in gainful employment. And most of them want to keep working, as work is increasingly viewed less as a burden and more as a boon to their quality of life. A key prerequisite to ensuring that this trend develops smoothly is the employability of older workers. In addition to individual factors such as a worker’s qualifications and health, much of this will depend on contextual factors such as government policies and the workplace environment.

Although the older worker employment rate in Germany has increased steadily over the last decade, it remains significantly lower than that of the overall working age population. In fact, there are several hurdles to prolonging gainful activity in the workforce. These include rigid regulations in labor and social law, insufficient investment in continuing education and lifelong learning, inflexible work arrangements and prejudiced misperceptions of the aged as less productive and inflexible.

Bearing these issues in mind, this project area aims to develop ideas that demonstrate how businesses might contribute to employability by redesigning work arrangements and what forms of support can be provided by the state. Particular attention will be paid to small and medium-sized enterprises that are generally subject to limited internal flexibility. A series of roundtable discussions will bring together representatives from business and employee associations to explore already developed and proven solutions that are scalable.

Key questions:

  • How can we ensure employability among older workers?
  • What responsibilities do businesses, policy, social partners and older workers bear in this respect?