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Experts: Jobs hard to come by for Finland's over-55s

Government is betting on older workers to help it meet employment targets, but employers tend to avoid hiring over-55s.

Rakennusmies liukuportaissa.
Older workers often face an uphill battle finding work. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Government’s aim of increasing employment among older workers will run into the reality that employers tend to overlook over-55-year-olds when they recruit new employees, according to labour market experts.

Budget negotiations that began on Monday will seek to find ways to meet the government’s ambitious target of creating 60,000 new jobs during its term in office. One of the strategies under consideration involves getting older jobseekers into work and a new report from the Ministry of Finance is proposing that senior workers could account for half of the 60,000-job target.

However the age of 55 is often cited as the threshold for being considered past viable and several analyses have found that employers prefer not to take on jobseekers in this age group. According to Statistics Finland's May labour force survey, the number of unemployed jobseekers was highest in the 55 - 64-year-old age group (64,000) between 2010 and 2018.

Pirjo Juvonen-Posti, lead specialist with the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) and Katri Ojala, also head specialist with Akava, the union representing professional and managerial workers, said that the perception that 55 is too old to work is the result of a decades-old practice of grandfathering senior workers out of the labour force.

"For many decades we have been taught that we can gently transition over-55-year-olds out of working life through unemployment pensions and early retirement schemes," FIOH’s Juvonen-Posti noted.

The specialists added that in the past, many employers were strapped for cash, so it was easy and convenient to offer seasoned employees a suitable path to retirement.

As the system became a sufficiently-entrenched and long-standing part of working life, employee attitudes also began to change. The idea of a reasonably long professional career changed and many no longer aspired to one.

The end result was that through an odd set of circumstances, 55-year-olds began to be seen as past their prime, even if some of them were in the best shape of their lives.

Attitudes need to change

Akava’s Ojala said that attitudes to older workers need to change.

"Unfortunately there are certain attitudes in the labour market, for example there is a misconception about how costly it is to hire people in this age group. This may in turn lead to age-based discrimination," Ojala said.

It is even debatable whether or not the term "aged worker" should be used, since this cohort is still of working age and very often constitutes experienced professionals.

Juvonen-Posti said that ageism is still evident in labour market practices, for example in the age structure of company payrolls.

"And it also shows in the experiences of over-55-year-olds when they try to find work," she added.

While advancing age may bring certain health problems, this may be a signal to alter workers’ job descriptions, something employers are reluctant to do, the experts noted.

Both Ojala and Juvonen-Posti said that attitudes towards older workers need to change and that no one should encounter discrimination based on age or changes in their working abilities.

They also pointed out that while it is important for workers to maintain job-related skills, that is the shared responsibility of both employers and employees.

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