Gender and age as barriers to labour market participation
Centre for Labour Market Studies University of Leicester Leicester, England
Recent and continuing demographic shifts have led to the expectation that older workers will need to form an increasing part of the labour force, highlighting the need to address issues relating to older people and their labour force participation (Warr et al 2004). At the same time, mature age individuals in the labour force face discriminatory practices including discrimination within employment interviews (Morgeson et al 2008), with regards to promotion, training opportunities, general attitude and instances of redundancy (Duncan and Loretto 2004). Women tend to face dual discrimination in these respects. In contrast, there are also indications of positive attitudes towards older workers and perceptions that they are very productive employees who are more reliable than younger workers (McNair et al 2007, Walker and Maltby 1997). Whilst there has thus been valuable research into employers´ attitudes towards older workers (Walker and Maltby 1997, Loretto and White 2006a/b), little is known about the role of learning within this relationships, employers rewards of such potential investment and employees work satisfaction as a result of involvement with learning. This paper questions the role that gender and age have on learning experiences and how this can influence the length of working lives and what role employers play or could play in providing such learning contexts.
The paper is based on recent research carried out on behalf of the East Midlands Learning and Skills Council (LSC) that investigated the relationship between involvement in learning and participation in the labour market by older workers (Beck 2009). Despite the lack of policies specifically on age and learning, the research revealed the existence of practices and policies that could be adjusted to benefit women and older workers including flexible working; assessor and mentor roles; adult apprenticeships; and structured and tailored learning programmes to address specific skill gaps. Employers and workers, especially in small and medium sized organisations had thus found individually tailored solutions to the ageing of the workforce in their sectors.