In the week that the Prime Minister threw the whole ministerial deck of cards up in the air in an effort to make the cabinet more female friendly, the Government also appointed Dr Ros Altmann as the business champion for older workers.
According to an estimate by PRIME (the charity for encouraging business start-ups amongst the over 50s) there are approximately 4 million people in their 50s and 60s economically inactive. This is about 50% of the total economically inactive population which the Office of National Statistics defines as ‘those out of work, but not seeking or available to work’.
PRIME regards this figure as a ‘shocking waste’, but the reality is a bit less clear. With unemployment running at just over 2 million, it is not clear how many of the economically inactive people are really unemployed, but choosing not to claim benefits. It is always possible that some people are living off an early pension until the right opportunity comes along, but it is equally possible that many have just taken an early pension and given up.
Clearly the Government thinks there is a problem there to be solved and only the very cynical would say that paying attention to this age group has anything to to with the fact that this age group is the one most likely to vote in the election next year.
Dr Altmann certainly has the right credentials. She is a former director-general of Saga (the travel and finance business for the over 50s) and she has also been a pensions adviser to the Government. A keen advocate for the value of people over 50 to the workforce, she was quoted in The Times recently as saying: “We put money into training the young, so why not also into training the old? It makes sense for an employer because if they train someone in their fifties they are likely to stay on for 10 years, whereas a younger person might well switch jobs”.
Co-incidentally this week, a presentation at the Alzheimer’s Association Conference in Copenhagen from the Finish National Institute for Health and Welfare outlined some early stage research that said that continual physical and mental activity by those in the 50+ age groups may significantly delay the onset of dementia in later life.
It is clear that there are both economic and health benefits (and NHS cost benefits) by keeping as many as possible in the 50+ age group economically active at least up to the age of 65. Which leaves the question ‘how’?
PRIME itself has had difficulty in fully engaging this age group in the idea of starting a business in later life. There have been some notable successes, but even they would admit there have been some significant challenges. Whether it be the start-up idea or retraining, as Ros Altmann suggests, making this work is literally teaching old dogs new tricks.
Both approaches risk ignoring the worth of the experience older individuals have in their chosen profession and what this can bring to many businesses. However, the worth of past experience can be reduced by new technology which is literally changing the whole business game. For example, someone with 30 years experience in advertising could just as easily have started yesterday for the worth of much of that experience in the age of the internet.
Here at A2Z Business brokers we do see people starting out on new business ventures in later years, but they are usually investors in, or buyers of, businesses and have had a track record as a business leader in the past that they can draw upon. In these terms it’s not really a ‘new trick’ for them, it’s just another venture.
So what recommendations do we have for economically inactive over 50s looking for new opportunities, but unable to find a job? Well, we think there are 3 main options:
- franchise business investment
- low level business investment
One of the things that kills opportunities for older workers, is reference to past employment and salary levels. It is often very difficult to accept a salary cut with so much water under the bridge and this can be a huge barrier to future employers who want the expertise, but do not want to pay that salary level.
One way round this is to sell the experience in small chunks as a freelancer, or as a contractor. This distributes the load across a number of ’employers’, allows a higher fee commensurate with past experience and earnings (often quite a bit more in fact) and makes it much easier for employers to buy services as clients.
The big hurdle to get over is usually selling which many people recoil from in horror. However, using freelance websites, or agencies will do most of the sales and so this can be a realistic option.
Franchise Business Investment
One of the difficulties PRIME has had is getting viable business ideas their clients can start a new business with. This is no reflection on PRIME, but coming up with a viable business idea from scratch can be really difficult for anyone. One way around this is to buy into a franchise. This gives you access to a viable business idea that is already proven in terms of both delivery and sales strategy. Not only that, but most franchises offer national marketing support also.
Training should be included in the entrance fee and this is often residential so that can be a great opportunity to meet up with other like minded individuals, moving in to the same business area, to swap ideas with.
It normally costs a few thousand at least to buy into a franchise, but this is money well spent if the alternative is sitting at home spending the same money on living expenses while waiting for the phone to ring.
Low Level Business Investment
Investing in businesses is not for the faint hearted and something to be done with eyes wide open and under advice. However, in the right circumstances, low level investment can be a great way to gain access to a business which may have great growth potential and could double your money, or more.
If you are bringing experience or expertise to the party, then a small investment could in effect buy a position that will in turn return a salary aswell as a potential return on the money invested. You may also consider taking ‘sweat equity’ which is undertaking work for a percentage of the business, but no short term cash.
You can see from this the potential for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of people with cash in the bank, but desperate for employment. This is where a broker such as A2Z Business Brokers can be invaluable in providing advisory and due diligence services, to ensure that any investment is made in a fully informed way – in legitimate businesses.
Whatever the end solution is for over the 50s employment problem, it is unlikely to be one clear solution, it is much more likely to be a hybrid of some of the ideas mooted above. We don’t do contracting services (yet), but for both franchising and business investment, A2Z Business Brokers is here to help.