The N8 Industry Innovation Forum (N8 IIF) has enabled a multi-partner project to look at how businesses and their staff are responding to an ageing population that is working for longer.
The ‘Extended Working Lives‘ project is one of 10 that emerged from the N8 IIF focussed on Active and Healthy Ageing, and brings together academics from the universities of Liverpool, Newcastle and York, together with Age UK, Age Inclusive, Red Embedded, Years Ahead and other partners including and Samsung Life, the TUC, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Scottish HWL, DaDaFest.
Set up in response to industry feedback, the N8 IIF acts as a catalyst for innovation by matching industry expertise with new insights from the world-leading research base across the N8 universities to create new conversations and new partnerships in key challenge areas. It is supported by the Technology Strategy Board and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
An ageing population has many implications for the structure and shape of the labour market, but although the majority of workers aged over 55 are employed by SMEs, the impact on employers and employees within smaller businesses has not been the focus of much research to date.
The partners wanted to identify how prepared small businesses and their workers are for retirement and how they are adapting to other drivers such as the changes to state pension age. They also wanted to explore where there are gaps in how businesses and workers are preparing and where there is innovative practice.
Dr Kate Bennett, from the University of Liverpool, is leading the project. She said:
“All sorts of organisations are interested in how to adapt as the population gets older, so one of the first challenges was to identify the right partners to work with. This has been a very fast moving and flexible project, and partners have changed as the project has evolved. This has worked really well, since it means we’ve been able to bring on board the right expertise and knowledge as needed, and this has made it a really exciting way to work.
“The support from the N8 Industry Innovation Forum has been crucial, not just in bringing partners together, but also in helping us maintain progress. The view throughout has been ‘how can we help’, which has been really refreshing.”
The project team has already organised an event earlier this year highlighting how SMEs are meeting the challenge of an ageing workforce. The event took place in May at the Department for Work and Pensions and disseminated the key findings from a study carried out among SMEs in the engineering sector in the North of England, and a survey of employees conducted through the TUC. The research revealed that employers are increasingly flexible in how they are accommodating the needs of older staff, with both parties working together to manage the shift into retirement, but there remain a number of concerns on both sides about the practicalities of working longer.
Among the partners involved with the project, and who co-organised the event in London was Cynthia Bartley, Managing Director, Age Inclusive. She said:
“The diverse range of partners involved brought a great mix of expertise to the project and also meant that there was lots of opportunity to learn from each other, allowing us to influence and shape the project. Having an industry partner such as ourselves who could liaise with the businesses taking part in the research really made a difference in getting their co-operation, helping the project meet its aims.”
Following May’s impact event in London, the partners are now working on two new research proposals – including one which came about as a direct result of discussions at the London event – to further explore the impact of deferred retirement in SMEs.
Read the full case study here.