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December 14, 2011

Discussion threads relating to age discrimination and the role of guidance

Discussion threads relating to age discrimination and the role of guidance.

This discussion took place in 2005 on the old National Guidance Research Forum (NGRF). The new site is more tightly focused but it seemed a shame to lose this discussion altogether. The discussions explore a wide range of issues relating to third age guidance

This discussion explores a wide range of issues relating to third age guidance

Comment 1: Role of film in challenging age related stereotypes in guidance

There are a number of films that lend themselves to use for career discussion purposes because they help to expand understanding of particular career guidance situations. However, until an example of a distinctly 'third-age career guidance' film became available. 'About Schmidt' is about the effect of retirement on a man in his 60s who has no personal desire to retire but has to go through with it, and is then left looking for a purpose in his life - including wondering what he has achieved by his life work. I wonder if it might lend itself to use within pre-retirement courses - and if so what impact it would have on older adults attending? At the very least it could shift attention away from the attractions of the 'Saga way of life', and help them to focus on the creative use of leisure, and the value of downshifting policies and volunteering.

Comment 2: Raising awareness

I am extremely interested in the part that films of this type and quality can play in breaking down barriers, stimulating meaningful discussion within groups, raising awareness, helping to show people that they are not alone with their problems and the issues they are facing and seeking to overcome, and in creating open peer support groups. The latter is one of the most successful methods of helping older adults to re-establish confidence and direction and extend their networks leading to work, learning and other activities - as of course it is for other age groups as well.

Comment 3: Discrepancies in the level of financial support for guidance with different age groups

An interesting point about the similarities of agendas/issues between Connexions' target group of sidelined young people (Not in Education, Employment or Training) - and Third Age sector members. One crucial point of common ground is that Government has ignored the needs of both sectors of the population until very recently. They are choosing to pour all this money into Connexions to work with the NEET group of clients - but IAG remains starved of funds, as the Government seems to think that adults should make their own way forward in second/third/fourth stage of careers, with no help from any expert in career planning. Who could put their hand up and say that all members of this group enjoy such freedom of thought - not to mention multiplicity of career choice at their disposal?!

Comments 4: Strengthening the evidence-base to justify guidance funding

I think we should acknowledge significant amounts of funding have been put into adult guidance compared with say 1995. In that context to say IAG for adults remains 'starved of funds' appears to be unhelpful in that it externalises (and blames?) the problem. The key issue for the adult guidance community is to 'make a case' for further funding based on what it is achieving and by mobilising arguments to inform 'evidence-based policy'. For example, Scotland and Wales both devote considerably more resources to adult guidance. What effect has that had?

Comment 5: Raising the retirement age: implications for guidance

The point about 'making a case' will be greatly helped by issues highlighted in the recent Government consultation document on age legislation, 'Age Matters: Towards Equality and Diversity: Report of Responses on Age' (2003, DTI). For a number of reasons, including financial, increasing numbers of adults are expected to want to work after 60. The extent to which suitable opportunities will be available remains an unknown factor. This also links to concerns about savings and pensions.

More guidance for adults is therefore likely to be on the way, but in what form. Will it be sufficiently open-ended to cope with the individual's desire for a change and to give extended guidance to consider choices and opportunities. Personally I think rights to guidance on the French (bilan de compétences) system would be helpful (Gendron, 2001). In that system it is possible to get a competency audit of prior experience to fit the requirements of the education and training system or the qualifications system, but also considerable time can be devoted to the development of more individualised career plans (Bjørnåvold, J. and Brown, A. 2002), . What if everyone had the right to say three days guidance say every ten years or so?

  • Bjørnåvold, J. and Brown, A. (2002), Rethinking the role of the assessment of non-formal learning, in P. Kämäräinen, G. Attwell and A. Brown (eds), Transformation of learning in education and training: key qualifications revisited, Cedefop Reference series 37, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
  • Gendron, B. (2001) The Role of Counselling and Guidance in Promoting Lifelong Learning in France, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, Volume 6, Number 1, 2001, 67 -96.

Comment 6: Regional variations

Demographics and economic imperative are going to mean people working longer, and there are likely to be changing patterns of work and retirement. However, there are likely to be major regional, social and economic variations in the circumstances of different sections of the community. That is, even if age discrimination were effectively tackled there would still be a number of other equal opportunity remaining.

Comment 7: Relevance of the 'Challenging Age' report

Looking at the Challenging Age report published in April 2003 could be helpful to this discussion. It addresses the huge wastage of skills and loss to the economy because of the barriers faced by the 'active ageing' group of those aged between 45 and 65 years. Aimed at helping older job-seekers successfully re-engage with the job market, the report provides a model of best practice for use by the network of information, advice and guidance partnerships across the country.

The key findings of Challenging Age were that:

  • stereotypes of older employees persist, and low value is placed on the skills and experience of older workers
  • many people over 45 years want to work, learn and continue to use their abilities in their later years.
  • many want a 'second chance'; to access high quality information, advice, guidance and retraining to enable them to overcome barriers to employment
  • adult information and advice must play a key role in helping mid-life and older adults to work, learn and earn.

Comment 8: Experiences from the frontline

There are also annexes to the Challenging Age report that include reports on the focus groups and telephone interviews with frontline workers in agencies working with older adults. In these older adults and frontline workers speak about their experiences - it might be helpful if we were able to draw upon these in the construction of some 'stories' about adult guidance that would give a stronger 'human' dimension to our discussions. Others may wish to contribute their own stories - there were also some available in some separate IAG reports.

Comment 9: Activities of third age guidance

The Challenging Age research report also highlights how older adults particularly welcomed a number of guidance inputs and activities, preferably available from the same provider so that they formed an integrated whole. The favoured activities and inputs included:

  • Clear and precise descriptions of what guidance services offer;
  • Accessible, personally relevant, up-to-date and detailed information on work and learning opportunities, finance and benefits, self-employment, volunteering, and local organisations that can help;
  • Expert advice and guidance that enables them to relate the information to their own circumstances;
  • Ready access to expert information, advice and guidance on financial issues and self-employment;
  • Skilled assessment;
  • Access to computer-aided guidance packages, and information on relevant websites;
    Skilled help in relating individual skills, aptitudes and experience to the changing labour market and needs of the local community - help in drawing up personal action plans;
  • Coaching in personal presentation, writing CVs, interview techniques, jobsearch and self-advocacy;
  • Training and career development opportunities that provide them with the skills required by local employers, and which they can afford;
  • Opportunities for work trials, work sampling and work experience;
    Opportunities to form peer group support networks.

The attitudes, approaches, and skills of the helping staff are of critical importance. Staff should be able to make older people feel welcome, be able to smile and encourage, possess empathy with the issues facing older adults, have the ability to work holistically, be good advocates and have extensive local networks, and be efficient and conscientious and keep in touch.

Comment 10: Making sense of individual stories

The point made earlier about 'stories' is important. In the Challenging Age report one could see that the guidance activities and inputs that older adults particularly favour are those that help them to make sense of their own individual stories and to decide how they want to develop these next. It was clear from the focus groups that many (perhaps all?) older adults are concerned about their life contributions and how they will be remembered. They want their lives to have been worthwhile.

One of the aims of the NGRF site is to give scope for story-telling as a vivid way of trying to make sense of many of the complex issues involved both in people's lives and in the guidance process. Bill Law's Career-Learning Cafe shares similar ideas. It can be accessed on http://www.hihohiho.com/. Although Bill's initial work on story applied to guidance relates to CEG in schools and colleges, and Connexions Services, adult guidance practitioners will quickly see how relevant Bill's work is to adult guidance.

Comment 11: Narrative approaches to working with adults

I am particularly struck by the importance of Bill Law's work to adults aged 45+, and the need to help many older adults to make sense of their individual stories in order to determine their next steps. I feel increasingly that third age guidance can only operate successfully if the 45+ are given time to explore their own stories.

I think that many older adults sense this need themselves, and this is a main reason why the Challenging Age research team found that the 45+ particularly favour IAG providers that offer a range of guidance and related activities from the same site, including learning opportunities and access to caring guidance workers who are available over a period of time and are skilled listeners (Ford,G. Watkins, B., Bosley, S., Hawthorn, R. McGowan, B. & Grattan, P. (2003) Challenging Age: Information, Advice and Guidance for Older Adults. DfES: Sheffield).

Basically older adults are, consciously or unconsciously, trying to create the space they need to explore their own stories and work out what they want the next chapters to contain so that their ultimate story has real quality and meaning. Guidance workers who have well developed caring, mentoring and listening skills are able to facilitate this process. Law's work helps to show why working out one's own story is potentially such an important and powerful aspect of guidance.

Comment 12: Challenging Age report uses quotes or vignettes to convey the human dimension, examples are given below:

  • Some of the group described the feelings of panic that older people can experience because of a sense of time running out - in trying to find suitable employment, satisfy an unfulfilled sense of vocation, and in other areas of their lives. You're determined not to give up.....but people can become disheartened. Some participants had direct experience of disappointment and disillusion, accompanied by a sense of panic, in their own search for employment. Two participants had also witnessed the process in their husbands who had been made redundant, and the loss of confidence and hope that the individual can consequently experience. I could see his personality changing...he lost confidence and didn't feel good about himself any more...he hasn't been the same man since.

Challenging Age focus group, York and North Yorkshire

  • You're on the scrap heap. You have to work really hard at remaining positive and keeping your motivation and self-confidence. All the time there's this unspoken innuendo - you're too old. But we've all got something to offer employment and the community. We need opportunities to use our experience - where necessary to be trained and retrained - and to work. There are social costs here - costs to the economy, costs to health and costs to social services and the community. It's an issue that the country has simply got to get hold of because there's so much waste - at some point it could be any of us.

Challenging Age focus group member, City of Sunderland

  • Voluntary work at the centre provides "a lifeline" for one and is the "mainstay of my life", for another. One participant found that her experiences of office and care work are valued at The Bridge. Through voluntary work she has been able to re-enter employment after two redundancies, and the "distressing and discouraging" experience of being unemployed. Another who was made redundant/early retired found voluntary work at The Bridge to be so fulfilling that he no longer wishes to return to paid employment. Volunteering is a valued source of self-esteem and structure, and provides the opportunity to use and develop skills.

Challenging Age focus group, Derbyshire

Comment 14: Feeling valued?

The point made earlier about how older adults are concerned about their life contributions, how they will be remembered and how they want their lives to have been worthwhile. This helps to explain why so many of those interviewed in the Challenging Age research shared an intense dislike of job centre staff who wanted to shunt them immediately into inferior and unsuitable jobs to get them off the unemployment register. Many adults wanted opportunities to develop their careers through training (within work, outside work, through volunteering) and wanted a fresh start (that is, not necessarily their old job but to develop latent interests and skills currently under-developed).

It was also apparent that volunteering work suited the skills and values of large numbers of older adults in ways that the current workplace appears unable to do. Would it be possible to pay stipends for volunteering (as is done in the States) and might we be able to enable many more older adults to provide the cement which holds together local communities through volunteer work? Is it necessarily a good thing for the economy that many more older people should be encouraged to stay in their existing work and/or in conventional paid work? Should we looking at ways of enabling many more to work within the voluntary sector?

There are fundamental issues here. High quality, targeted and effective third age guidance can help many more older adults to continue to lead productive and useful lives. This could help them to die content and feel they will be remembered (sounds bleak but this is almost certainly a universal desire which we do well to remember - and so should politicians concerned with the quality of life and the economics of happiness).

Comment 15: The importance of practitioner attitude

The point made above that the attitudes, approaches, and skills of the helping staff are of critical importance and that staff should possess empathy with the issues facing older adults, have the ability to work holistically, be good advocates and have extensive local networks, and be efficient and conscientious and keep in touch has parallels with Connexions. The requirements of staff dealing with the Connexions groups are similar - and indeed there is a strong argument for a Third Age Connexions or similar provision if the country is genuinely going to do something about using the vast and often wasted reserve of skills and potential possessed by the 45/50+.

Challenging Age raises issues concerned with the move into active retirement - however, much more work is required on guidance for shifting into active retirement, and the variety of routes from gradual and planned to sudden and unexpected that can be taken.

Comment 16: Further reading on this topic

Geoff Ford and Jim Soulsby's Mature Workforce Development: East Midlands 2000: Research and Report, prepared for EMDA and obtainable from NIACE.

This report includes over 200 pages of brief outlines of third age policy and research reports and resources, classified under the following categories: key national policy documents; the changing situation; employment; recruitment and employment services; community involvement; lifelong learning; special groups; overcoming barriers; and consulting older people.

Life after 50: Issues for policy and research edited by Donald Hirsch. Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2000.

This reviews relevant research under 3 headings - older people and paid work; the income dimension; and active participation beyond employment. Donald Hirsch produced this to inform the JRF 50+ Transitions Programme, and to identify priority gaps within which to commission research. Third age guidance methodology was identified as such a gap.


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