Over-50s 'returnerships' announced in spring budget not going ahead, ministers say

But HR experts say this should not put employers off from enticing this cohort back into work and improving their workplaces to accommodate them

Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The government has said that ‘returnerships’, the apprenticeship programme to entice the over 50s back into work announced in the spring budget, will only see older workers directed to existing schemes.

The confirmation, from education minister Nick Gibb in an interview with The Yorkshire Post, explained that current government policy was to signpost older workers to already available training. This includes the Department for Work and Pensions Midlife MOT website, as well as apprenticeships and skills bootcamps that are designed as an alternative to university for young people.

This is despite government figures showing 280,000 more workers in the over-50s category being declared economically inactive since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

At the time of the March announcement on returnerships, chancellor Jeremy Hunt said “no country can survive if it turns its back on the wealth of talent and ability”.

The government was expected to refine existing skills programmes for the over 50s, focusing on flexibility and reducing training length to give older workers a route back into work. 

Confirmation that there will be no new schemes for older workers has “surprised” Dominic Wade, co-founder of HR recruitment firm Wade Macdonald, who said that the over 50s have skills that can be “valuable to an employer”.

He added: “However, even if the promised apprenticeship schemes are not going ahead, that doesn’t mean employers should give up on trying to diversify their workforces and, given the shortage of available workers since the pandemic, tapping into the over-50s workforce makes a great deal of sense.”

Tim Ringo, director at Lace Partners, said news of no new over-50s schemes might not impact the number returning to work as the “private sector has proven very adept at enticing older people back into work”.

He added that many over 50s were ready to re-enter work because they felt too young to quit, too bored and had seen the cost of living crisis impacting their standard of living. “Many over 50s are tending to come back into work on their own terms,” Ringo said. “However, they want to work flexibly (both flexible hours and flexible locations) and, most importantly, they want to feel welcomed back into work.

“But many over 50s who left the workforce during Covid reported that they were increasingly on the wrong end of negative attitudes towards older workers.”

According to CIPHR stats, the most common form of workplace discrimination reported in the UK is age discrimination, with more than one in 20 (5.7 per cent) saying they had experienced workplace discrimination based on their age.

Ringo explained that to properly entice older workers back into employment, businesses needed to focus on overcoming any potential negative attitudes of younger teammates and managers, with opportunities to learn from each other taking centre stage.

He added: “Organisations should look to train younger workers and managers in how best to interact with and leverage the unique skills and experience of older workers. Investing in team building activities that allow the different generations to understand each other and find common ground will be key.

“Younger workers should be given the opportunity to gain the significant benefits they can find from older workers and vice versa, and older workers can pass on lessons learned from their mistakes, which is very valuable to younger workers.”

Viren Patel, director for business development at Open University, said an offer of differentiated learning pathways can also be crucial to enticing the over 50s back to work in a productive manner. “Learning should be available to help you upskill and reskill,” he said. “If an employee is over the age of 50, think about how training can widen their skillset – whether through a short course or micro-credential, or even via an apprenticeship. 

“With older learners flexibility is key, because they may already have personal responsibilities that can make traditional classroom-based learning a challenge.”