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Barriers to finding work

Barriers faced by 50+ job seekers and how to overcome them

Barriers and overcoming them

It is not always easy to identify barriers and while some are real, others are perceptions. Being over 50 sometimes makes existing barriers appear worse.

People aged 50+ may be reticent about expressing their feelings. At the same time, they may be reluctant to ‘blow their own trumpet’. You will want to be sure you are developing enough understanding to help unlock their potential for employment.


Typical barriers


Lack of self confidence and low self esteem

Loss of work can undermine anyone’s self confidence. The longer people are out of work, the lower it can sink. Research has shown this to be particularly true for men as work has traditionally played a central role in their lives and identity. However, work is now playing an increasingly important role for many women too.

Being made redundant, even when the job lost has been a chore, can affect a person’s ability to put energy into a job search or to think laterally about what skills they could offer or use. 

Some people will think they have nothing to offer. They may well also feel bitter about what they perceive as unfair treatment. Focus on any positives your customer tells you about to boost their self confidence without inflating their aptitudes.

Age discrimintaion and negative stereotypes

Age discrimination in recruitment continues but it is difficult to prove. Many 50+ jobseekers believe ageism is at the core of their difficulties. Not having job applications acknowledged, not being called to interviews, and being told they are too experienced or over-qualified by employers are frequently interpreted as evidence of ageist attitudes. Ageist language, such as ‘pensioner’ or ‘baby boomer’ to define people is common.

The over-50s also have to contend with widely held negative stereotypes and misconceptions.


Wanting to give up

If people make unfocused, random or blanket job applications, they rarely achieve success. Constant rejections can add to feelings of despondency and low self esteem. The job applicant may believe their age is a major barrier to finding work. Help your customer to focus on presenting job applications and CVs in a positive, up to date format that describes their competency to fill the vacancy rather than their age.

New recruitment practices 

Many people find that their earlier experiences of how to look for a job are no longer relevant. The current recruitment environment, as well as the labour market, has changed and some over-50s may feel at a loss when faced with new recruitment practices. However, contacts, personal networks and job advertisements are well known job search practices which you can encourage your customer to use among others.

Job expectations and changing employment market

Wanting more of the same is not often an option in today’s labour market. While it is reasonable to want the same or better wage or salary level as previously earned, customers may need coaching to better understand the impact of the recession and changing job roles in the current economy.

Fixed views on skills and possible jobs

Some over-50s may have a fixed view of the skills they can offer. They frequently think only of the tasks they performed in past roles and struggle to identify transferable skills that might be of use to an employer or in self-employment They may not take into account all aspects of their life and experience such as their hobbies, voluntary work and social activities which have given them valuable skills and competencies. It is not impossible to retrain for another job, or to upgrade qualifications already gained, for which there may be labour market demand.

Lack of formal qualifications and less access to training

Many employers use formal qualifications as a proxy for skills and will automatically filter out job applications from those who do not have them.

Compared with younger age groups, fewer over-50s have formal qualifications and those qualifications they have may be out of date. But many do have in-depth work experience valued by employers. Almost 20 per cent of people aged 50 to state pension age have higher level qualifications.

Older workers may have had less access to training in employment and once unemployed. Training courses can sometimes be expensive and time consuming. If their skills are out of date and relate to defunct roles, it can be difficult to translate them into transferable and saleable skills. Engage your customer in a skills check that helps them understand that they may need new or additional skills training to improve their chances in a changing labour market.

Lack of IT skills

Some 50+ customers will not have had the opportunity to learn IT skills. Others may have acquired just enough skills to do a specific job of work. Some may be fearful of learning a new skill and may not yet recognise that almost all jobs today require a basic competency in IT.

Working life patterns

The different working life patterns of men and women can affect the types of roles they have had and the skills they offer. Many older women have taken time off to bring up children and may have worked in less skilled and part-time jobs as a result.

Caring responsibilities

According to Carers UK, a quarter of women and 18 per cent of men aged 50-59 provide some care to family members or friends. This is the highest proportion for any adult age group.

Although past or current caring responsibilities may have brought additional skills, they may also have created a sense of isolation and loss of contact with the working world. Current caring responsibilities may mean people can only work certain hours or are looking for jobs with flexible working hours.

Health issues

Health issues can be a major barrier for some over-50s. Around half of people claiming health-related benefits are over 50. Some conditions become more common as people grow older and can be work-limiting. Although some of your customers may be deemed fit for some work, they may worry that work will exacerbate their condition or impede their recovery. See Health conditions and work (pdf, 76 KB opens in new tab or window).

Stronger desire for local employment

Many people will be seeking employment in a local area. Established roots, relationships and commitments often mean a reluctance to travel for work. So 50+ customers require clear information on the employment needs of local employers.


Geographic location

Where people live can be a significant barrier to finding work. There may be few suitable jobs available in the area or they may have travel difficulties, particularly in rural areas. It is important for you to be aware of any local factors that may affect your customer’s ability to find a suitable job.

WHP is co-financed by the ESF

Co-financed by the European Social Fund