Age biggest barrier to career progression, survey finds

But experts warn against singling out just one characteristic such as age, gender or ethnicity when tackling disadvantage at work

Age is the “number one barrier” to job opportunities in the UK, above gender, ethnicity or educational background, according to research by LinkedIn

The survey, which polled more than 2,000 individuals in the UK as part of a wider global study, found many in the UK believed their age to be problematic when looking for a more stable job or changing career. 

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of respondents believed their age was a barrier in the job market, compared to 7 per cent who thought their level of educational attainment prevented them from getting ahead. Just 5 per cent thought gender was a barrier, and 4 per cent cited ethnicity.

Older workers were more likely to cite age as an issue, with nearly half (45 per cent) of those aged 55 to 65, and 26 per cent aged 39 to 54, reporting they thought their age was a barrier to progressing their careers.

And two-thirds said the age barrier was very difficult to overcome: the majority (84 per cent) said working hard was the key to “getting ahead in life”, while 78 per cent cited willingness to embrace change.

Emily Andrews, senior evidence manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said the figures showed ageism remains a problem in the UK jobs market, and said unless employers take action, they will miss out on the skills and experience older workers can bring. 

“Older workers aren’t just the workforce of the future, they’re the workforce of the present – so employers who don’t adjust to the ageing workforce are likely to face skill shortages,” she said.

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Andrews added: “Offering training and career development opportunities to employees of all ages, and using age-neutral language and images in recruitment adverts, can also encourage a larger and more diverse range of job applicants.” 

While creating a more age-inclusive workplace is important, the CIPD warned employers should not view age, gender or ethnicity as the only characteristic potentially disadvantaging people at work. Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said employers need to “focus on creating inclusive workplaces where everyone, no matter their identity, background or circumstance, feel they belong and are able to make a valuable contribution”.

The survey comes as the number of over-50s in the workplace is set to rise, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Individuals aged between 50 and 64 accounted for more than half of the increase in employment in 2019, with 198,000 more people from that age group in work from March to May 2019 compared to the same period the previous year.

Jon Addison, vice president of talent solutions for EMEA for LinkedIn, said previous research by his organisation showed 46 per cent of businesses were changing their workforce strategies to appeal to both younger and older generations. “It’s promising to see UK companies thoughtfully addressing how they can best harness the diverse skills and experiences of the multi-generational workforce,” he said.

“Companies are creating longevity initiatives, such as returnships, reverse mentoring schemes and upskilling programmes to keep older generations happy and engaged at work, which is crucial to building diverse and successful companies, and fuelling economic growth.”

The LinkedIn study found most people in the UK associate “opportunity” with getting a job that offers good work-life balance (43 per cent), stability (42 per cent) and the chance to do what they love (40 per cent).