Supporting the employability of adults aged 50+ in the post Covid-19 era

The OU Employability Conference 2022: expanding the narrative for a rapidly changing world - continuing the conversation takes place in a few weeks. 

The programme offers a global perspective on principles of employability. "Higher education institutes (HEIs) have a major role to play in helping nurture students, but their impact is hampered by a narrowed definition of employability that sees them focusing too much on employment. HEIs need to expand the narrative to cover the many reasons why people commit to university study." 

I will be presenting a workshop at the conference, taking the opportunity to expand the narrative around employability in HE to older adults, building on the work I am conducting with Professor Valerie Egdell and Dr Louise Ritchie. The abstract for my session is reproduced below.

Supporting the employability of adults aged 50+ in the post Covid-19 era 
Emma Bolger, University of the West of Scotland, UK
Co-authors: Valerie Egdell, Northumbria University, UK / Louise Ritchie, University of the West of Scotland, UK 

Older adults, aged 50+, are one of the groups bearing the brunt of the labour market crisis precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. They have lost their jobs, been furloughed and have experienced pay/hours reductions and increased job insecurity. Some even have altered their retirement plans (Crawford & Karjalainen, 2020). For those who lost their jobs, their future employment and health and wellbeing will be compromised not only in the short/medium-term, but also the long-term (Gallo et al., 2006; Gangl, 2006). Many older adults have returned to study, looking to gain new knowledge and skills to support their employability. Programmes of support and information for people in their 50s and 60s have been proposed, piloted (NIACE) (2013-15) and tested (Beach & Holden, 2020; Eurofound, 2016; Loretto et al., 2017; Watts et al., 2015). They cover key aspects of work including health, skill levels, work–life balance, personal finances, pension entitlement and knowledge management (Eurofound, 2016). These interventions are often costly and inconsistent in-person initiatives to support older adults with contemporary jobseeking and applications (Siegler 2020) and there is a need for age-specific, contemporary employability-focused activity. Focusing only on the predominantly younger HE student population could overlook the needs of age diverse student groups who should not be overlooked in the creation of support programmes. A narrow definition of employability focusing on employment might exclude those older adults who might wish to return to university study, and the new reasons for this in post-pandemic society. In our workshop, a holisitic career guidance approach will be taken which encompasses all life roles, offering practical proposals for employability support interventions for older adults. 


Beach, B., & Holden, D. (2020). Building the Case for Mid-Life Career Interventions. London: International Longeitvity Centre UK. 

Crawford, R., & Karjalainen, H. (2020). The Coronavirus Pandemic and Older Workers. IFS Briefing Note BN305. London: The Institute for Fiscal Studies. 

Eurofound (2016). Changing Places: Mid-Career Review and Internal Mobility. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. 

Gallo, W. T., Bradley, E. H., Dubin, J. A., Jones, R. N., Falba, T. A., Teng, H. M., & Kasl, S. V. (2006). The persistence of depressive symptoms in older workers who experience involuntary job loss: Results from the Health And Retirement Survey. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 61(4), S221-S228. 

Gangl, M. (2006). Scar effects of unemployment: An assessment of institutional complementarities. American Sociological Review, 71(6), 986-1013. 

Loretto, W., Airey, L., & Yarrow, E. (2017). Older People and Employment in Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 

Sigler, I. (2020). Activating Older Unemployed Individuals: A Case Study of Online Job Search Peer Groups Proceedings of the 54th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences 2021. Available: 

Watts, J., McNair, S., Robey, C., Casey, L., Berry, C. & Sterland, L. (2015). Mid Life Career Review Pilot Project Outcomes: Phases 1, 2, and 3 (2013-2015). Final report to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Leicester: NIACE.


  1. Sounds great Emma, I hope more and more awareness of this continues to build in our community. It is a problem that is not been addressed adequately.


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