Monday 21 October 2019

'Youngsters keep you young' - Why more people than ever are working beyond the age of 65

More and more of Ireland's ageing population are working beyond retirement age - some need the money, while others, as Regina Lavelle finds, just want to keep active

Age is just a number: Jimmy Gollogly (69) is back teaching two days a week at Scoil Uí Mhuirí in Dunleer, Co Louth. Photo: Arthur Carron
Age is just a number: Jimmy Gollogly (69) is back teaching two days a week at Scoil Uí Mhuirí in Dunleer, Co Louth. Photo: Arthur Carron

Regina Lavelle

In life, few things divide the masses as much as the issue of working after 65. Typically framed as either working people into the grave, or oldies overstaying their workplace welcome when they should really be off playing bowls or bingo, it's never unremarkable.

However you view it, more of us are doing it, and nowadays more of us may need to.

The recent Labour Force Survey showed that one in nine over-65s is working - "around 50pc higher than as recently as the mid-noughties", as economist Dan O'Brien pointed out in this newspaper.

With impending pension shortfalls and the prospect of a quarter of the population being over 65 in the 2050s, this may be a trend to be welcomed.

But for those who have continued to work after the retirement threshold, how have they found work and how do colleagues respond?

"I never felt 60 when I was 60," says 69-year-old maths, economics and "a little bit of politics" teacher Jimmy Gollogly, from Co Louth.

"Youngsters keep you young. I loved working so I was never the kind of person who looked forward to retirement. I looked forward to working.

"A lot of teachers can't wait to retire but I was never that way. I always thought it was a pity teachers would retire at 60 and all that experience would go with them.

"I stayed on until I could. A few people might have said, 'Jesus, Jimmy, are you still working?'. But most people didn't remark."

After retiring Gollogly did a course in house insulation and then a degree in international e-marketing and languages.

"I was the oldest swinger in town. There were loads of South Americans, from Venezuela, Colombia, all over. I think I learned more Spanish from chatting to them than I did from the lectures."

Despite his enthusiasm, jobs weren't initially forthcoming.

"I had been looking for work all along but when people see that you were born in 1949, you can be sure that they're putting your CV to the bottom of the pile. I was lucky because maths teachers are always in demand. You can't just conjure them up.

"Luckily I got a call from the Scoil Uí Mhuirí (in Dunleer) principal asking me to cover a maternity leave. I didn't need to be asked twice. I said, 'Yes please'.

"I think I did more homework than the kids did, I wanted to make sure I knew everything inside out. My wife used to say, 'Are you studying again?'"

He covered a year's maternity leave and then returned to do two days a week.

"You have plenty of experience to draw on and I like when younger teachers ask for advice.

"People might say, 'Oh you're taking jobs for younger people', but we all have to paddle our own canoes. Besides, I remind them, they wouldn't want to be ageist."

Eamon Cullen, "72-and-a-half", was a sales manager for 32 years with a large company but was made redundant in 2006. After periods as a chauffeur and an Ireland sales manager for a UK company, he set up his own consultancy.

"I had difficulty getting back into a sales manager job with an Irish company but no difficulty with a UK company. It wasn't a problem for them. Age didn't matter. I did ask them at one point if my age was an issue and they said, 'It's about what you can offer and bring to the company'. I've never had a problem dealing with any of our State agencies here either."

Cullen says that when he meets former colleagues or acquaintances, most are envious that he is still working.

"They'd 'love to be working', is what they say to me. I don't work every day, I work about three days a week, but I love it. People have all this experience and they want to use it. I find that companies I consult with often ask for my opinion and advice on issues, because they know I've been through it all."

Modern corporate cultures can be brutal for older employees, notably in the tech industry, now embedded in our industrial framework.

A 2017 report in US publication Marketwatch on hiring practices in tech firms noted that "promotion rates for tech workers decrease continuously with age".

A recent viral Quora post asked: "What do people over 50 do in Silicon Valley? I hardly see anyone over that age in the big tech companies."

Fine Gael TD Tom Neville is a former recruitment consultant who worked in Australia, Ireland and Europe and says, in his experience, there can be a "covert - not overt - discrimination" at play against older people.

"People would have been seen as 'too senior' for certain roles. Now, there are times where people are too senior for certain positions so that happens. But these were occasions where I understood it was a line, that it was an ageist outlook."

For the Government, it may be less a case of keeping older people at work than encouraging employers to keep them there.

"Many older people want to continue working but fall victim to ageism and discriminatory mandatory retirement clauses," says Celine Clarke, head of advocacy and communications at Age Action.

Clarke mentions that where the Public Service Superannuation Act 2018 provides for the mandatory retirement age to increase from 65 to 70, no such legislation is in place for the private sector.

She adds: "High reports of ageism in recruitment are self-reported by the over-55s."

This ageism may contribute to people dropping out of the labour market long before they reach 65, an issue SIPTU is keen to examine.

"The labour force participation rate (LFPR) for those aged 60 to 64 is around 51pc, which indicates that 49pc are out of work. Some might be by choice. But there is a sharp fall-off in the number of people available after they reach the age of 55," says SIPTU economist Marie Sherlock.

"We need to talk about keeping more in employment, if they so wish. But we need to look at the factors as to why people are leaving employment."

Sherlock continues: "A significant cohort of people work until 65 and then are forced to go on Jobseeker's allowance, a lower payment, until they reach their pension entitlement at 66. So there's a gap."

For many older people who've worked all their lives, having to 'draw the dole' after decades of taxpaying employment will stick in the craw.

"The really interesting thing is that the debate is shifting - there is no shift yet.

"The narrative is, how to pay for pensions. But we're not talking about the labour force participation rate - which is very low, especially for women. It shouldn't be about getting people to work for longer, it should be about getting more people working."

The same Labour Force Survey shows that the LFPR for men overall is 68.3pc and for women is 56.2pc. And while men over 65 have a participation rate of 16.7pc, for women it is 6.6, down to 46.6pc.

Tom Neville believes keeping older people working has myriad advantages.

"The skills shortage may not be as radiant if there was less covert discrimination there. These people have skills - it's just down to education and training. That's an asset of a company that's not being realised. If that can be harnessed, it's good for companies, it's good for the State and it's good for society - it helps bridge the divide between generations."

Gollogly agrees that keeping abreast of new developments is key.

"I embraced technology and kept up with it," he says. "Some of my colleagues - even younger ones - were scared of it."

Irish Independent

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