Innovating for an ageing workforce: ‘Work for Tomorrow’ competition
We're living through a period of unprecedented disruption in the world of work. That is a great environment for innovation.
It was a privilege to be asked to Chair the launch of the ‘Work for Tomorrow’ competition from the International Longevity Centre and to be joined by so many leaders in the field as well as entrepreneurs who want to make a difference. We had a lively set of discussions which raised some interesting questions, which I hope provide subject for thought.
Ageing populations are not just a forecast – they are now with us, and so too are the opportunities to use the knowledge, skills and capabilities that older people have acquired over their lifetime. But this is also a difficult conversation, ageism remains so prevalent and embedded in our culture.
We are now living through a period of unprecedented disruption in the world of work. That is a great environment for innovation, and the four themes for this competition highlight how work for tomorrow can make a real difference:
- Adapting the workplace.
The last year has seen huge changes – virtual working is now the norm in so many walks of life, even building sites have had to adapt. Many organisations are thinking about what hybrid working might mean for them. How do you do that in a way that is age-inclusive and has intergenerational appeal?
- Addressing discrimination and supporting diversity.
Is age the most forgotten aspect of diversity and inclusion? Experience tells us that, for instance, women typically arrive in later life with fewer resources than men, often as a result of having taken responsibility for caring for others. We discussed how ageism overlaps with ‘ableism’ and the complexity involved in achieving buy-in to change. Yet change is exactly what’s needed and surely good innovation can help provide the solution?
- Building knowledge, skills, and competence.
What, for instance, does work for tomorrow mean for those who pursued physically demanding careers. We discussed the need to frame innovations in a way that enhances collaboration between generations and helps with life-stage transitions. We also discussed how the gig-economy is changing the nature of work and what that could mean for tomorrow. With digital adoption fast-tracked due to Covid, and both software and machines relieving us from the burden of repetitive tasks, what innovations can help workers of all ages upskill to face an increasingly tech driven world?
- Maintaining good health.
Over the last year we have seen only too clearly the benefits of maintaining good health, and we know that poor health is a major factor in people leaving the workforce. We discussed that while activity is good, we have been losing activity from work. How can innovations nudge people into sustaining activity while at work and encourage the uptake of active travel options? What innovations can promote health at work, for instance reaching out to those who are self-employed or work for small businesses?
For innovators out there thinking about applying, there were a couple of wise words from the audience. Firstly, avoid reinvention and learn from what has, and hasn’t, worked in the past. Then, don’t fix older people’s problems for them. The best solutions are co-produced so go out and talk to people with lived experience of all ages; and of course, don’t ever stop asking yourself and others critical questions.
For more information about ILC’s ‘Work for Tomorrow’ competition and to apply, please visit: https://ilcuk.org.uk/work-for-tomorrow/
UKRI Healthy Ageing Challenge Director