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What can we learn from The Town that Never Retired about being employable over 50?

Article by Ceri Wheeldon

There was an excellent programme aired on BBC1 recently, hosted by Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford of The Apprentice, The Town that Never Retired. For those who missed it, a group of pensioners , all in their 70s, went back to work, to establish how they could cope in today’s workplace, and how feasible it would be for employers to include older workers in their teams. Halfway through the programme, the pensioners were joined by jobseekers under 25, to see how the two groups compared from an employability perspective.

The results were extremely interesting – especially when taking into account the fact that we will all be expected to work longer, and for those of us in our early 50s now, it is quite possible that we will be expected to continue working into our 70s.

So what lessons can we learn from ‘The Town that Never Retired’?

Nobody could fault the work ethic of any of the pensioners. All were committed and took the project very seriously. There were issues for many though:

  1. Stamina. The physical stamina needed to work in some of the roles proved to be demanding- especially for the men working in construction. Most of the pensioners found working full consecutive days tiring.
  2. Skills. Sheila, a former nurse who joined a GP’s practice found the extensive use of technology hard to get to grips with, as did Marie who was working in the estate agency. Marie had the added problem of choosing to use her own car rather than the car (with a satnav)  supplied, and found it difficult to find the properties she was showing. Sheila also had to get up to speed with new processes and ways of assessing patients.
  3. Speed and dexterity. Those working in the chocolate factory on the production line found it hard to keep up with the pace. Although they got on well and enjoyed the work, offering them jobs would not be an option as they would slow the production line , making it economically unviable.
  4. People skills. This is where the pensioners excelled over and above their younger counterparts. In the case of Ruth, who was working as a waitress in an upmarket, very busy restaurant, her people skills resulted in a job offer at the end of the project. Marie’s people skills were also seen as outweighing her problems with technology, and would definitely influence the employer to hire her.

So what does this mean for those of us in our 50s and 60s today?

  1. The Town that Never Retired highlighted that need to maintain health and fitness to ensure that we are able to work for as long as possible- AND enjoy our eventual retirement! Hopefully the articles from our fitness expert Anne Elliott will help in this respect as will articles on nutrition from Dr Marilyn Glenville.
  2. It essential that we continue to embrace new technology in order to be ‘current’ and attractive to potential employers.
  3. We need to keep up to date with our skills in our given field.
  4. To work full time in a physically demanding role may not be realistic- reinvention or portfolio working may well have to be considered.
  5. Our people skills and work ethic are key strengths – we need to use these to our full advantage  and emphasise at interviews or when being considered for promotion.
  6. As the employers were all reluctant to consider older workers at the start of the programme, but changed their minds in several instances once they had the chance to see the pensioners ‘in action’, there may be nothing to lose by offering to be a mature ‘intern’ for a short, specific period just to prove what you can do. If no job materialises there may be opportunities to learn new skills/technologies which you can take forward into your next role.

We all need to take responsibility for own futures and take whatever steps we can to extend our employability.

Image: BBC





Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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