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Are 50-Year-Olds and Older No Longer Worth Anything?

Are 50-Year-Olds and Older No Longer Worth Anything?

Are we excluding any person past 50 years from the job market? Might secret indicators have demonstrated that past this age a staff member would dramatically reduce the competitive edge of a business, not achieve objectives or do a disservice to the team spirit? In summary, past 50 years old, do we purely and simply become the weak link?


The answer to these questions is obvious. But, how is it that a third of the unemployed population in France is over 50 years old? Unemployment among 50+ people in France shot up 9.8% in 2015. From 423,000 in 2009, the number now stands at 872,000 six years later. Someone who is 50+ takes an average of 540 days to find a job, more than double the time taken by 35-49-year-olds. In our country, 47% of people over 50 years old have a job, compared to 74% in Sweden and in the Netherlands!


A survey by Edenred-Ipsos conducted last year in the corporate world highlights this predicament. Like an echo of what is happening on the outside, those aged 50+ in the corporate world suffer from a lack of consideration, inadequate training, hampered prospects and a lack of recognition for their talents. Another survey, by the Institut Montaigne, published the same year, drives the point home: the 50+ population is too expensive from the perspective of business chiefs, who consider them, additionally, as potentially unequipped for technological evolutions. Depressing, given a global context of an ageing population and a very probable future decline of the retirement age.


Among the various solutions that can be activated to fight against unemployment of those aged 50+, training indisputably stands out as an inescapable leverage. No one disputes this point. Yet, it seems that in spite of the significant funds allocated to training, it has failed to mitigate the decline of the situation, which will make the current 50-somethings a sacrificed generation. Since the 90s, no one has managed to halt the trend: “the contract of generations” established in 2012, which offered advantages to employers who would recruit a young person and a senior citizen at the same time, has since fizzled out. We await, without much faith, the results of the billion-euro plan launched in January 2016 in support of business creation training. In the past twenty years, the concept of and actions surrounding “continuing professional training” have demonstrated their limits in our constantly shifting world; but the aim of these political decisions is to, at the very least, position senior citizens training at the heart of public debate.


The vision we have in France is too classic, narrow, rigid and entrenched in out-dated practices. We wrongly associate training with a direct solution in favour of employment. Undoubtedly in terms of the approved investments: 32 billion euros per year, i.e. 1.5% of the GDP. 32 billion funded by the State and municipalities (at 53%), companies (43%) and households (4%). A considerable expense to serve a sector that is too often slammed for its lack of efficiency in a number of administrative or parliamentary reports.


It is high time to rethink and approach training through other means. They are based on three priorities: Individualise the training, while using it to bridge the gap between generations rather than continuing to pit them against each other, and transcending simple career issues to make way for collaboration, facilitation and management.


The first point depends on each individual’s rationale: Why are they engaging in professional training, for what reason, for what returns on investment? As such, individualisation of training becomes a mandatory step. But we are currently far from it. Yet, the benefits of training reside in the close link between individual motivation and acquired skills. This implies, for the concerned, contributing to a professional plan formulated by himself and for himself. Senior citizens in particular draw on their experiences, therefore placing them in a better position to express what they can contribute by the end of their careers.


The second point, bridging the generational gap, undercuts an inherently French paradox: Opposing the youth that we hold in too much regard – youth because lacking experience and skills – to senior citizens that we ostracise, criticising them for their lack of adaptability and resistance to change. Let us be constructive, positive, let us stop pitting generations against each other, and let us create a “social connection” at each level. Let us bridge the gap between generations, let us include them at the heart of the business, naturally, but also within a revised training set up. So that at the core of an identified project, the roles can be distributed not by considering the ages, but rather on the desires expressed and the talents present. There again, we underestimate the key link between motivation and acquired skills.


Lastly, the third point: each training action must imperatively make way for a managerial and collaborative dimension. Attachment to professional expertise and technical skills is no longer enough. Whether for management or facilitation purposes, the project mode should be a prerequisite. Our engineering schools, for instance, have equipped elites with unrivalled professional know-how. Without placing “how to make men work also” at the heart of the studies. Training must, before even an individual achieves seniority at work, bridge this gap.


For each of these points, the new continuing training vision must also keep the following four objectives in mind: give meaning; train on social relations; promote internal cooperation, and; always keep the client’s and market vision in mind. It is high time we no long think of “continuing training” in terms of costs. A new vision on the subject would offer fascinating prospects at work for the majority of people, and for the 50+ first and foremost.


It is the entire company that would stand to gain, in terms of agility, because the 50+  are always driving elements in periods of change, but also in terms of the mindset, as their experience encourages cooperation particularly between generations. We all stand to gain. For this dynamic to work, a long overdue collective awareness is required.