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How training can help the 50+ back into work

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Six types of training are particularly likely to be useful to older people seeking work:

Building self confidence

Low self confidence is one of the main problems for 50+ people seeking work, and the most commonly reported benefit of education and training is ’improved self confidence’. It can be developed through learning almost any ‘subject’, and for people who have done no learning for a long time, it is sometimes easiest to start with a personal interest or hobby to get them used to the idea that they can learn.

Essential qualifications

Some courses are designed to give people the essential qualifications or skills for work in a specific sector or job.

Basic skills / ‘Skills for life’

In the past it was often possible to hold down a job for many years with very limited reading, writing, numeracy and language skills, and IT skills were rare. Few can now do without these ‘Skills for life’ (the term used to describe all these skills / courses) and will find it difficult to get a job if they have problems with:.

  • reading and writing
  • numeracy
  • IT and basic computing
  • speaking English.

Some employers will wish to see evidence of these skills, but individuals are often very reluctant to admit to having problems, especially with literacy.

Courses are widely available in all these (separately or in combination, and in each of the four areas there is a set of national qualifications at three entry levels (1, 2 and 3). You can find further details on the DirectGov website.

Strategies for hiding difficulties with literacy

Adults who have difficulty with reading and writing often develop clever strategies for keeping their difficulties hidden. For example, advisers may, in the course of their careers, find they have customers who always seem to leave their reading glasses at home when asked to take a test, read text on a computer screen or fill out an application form. By playing on the stereotype of being forgetful they successfully distracted people from the real problem of not being able to read as well as they would like to.  

Broadening horizons

Many people assume that getting back to work means returning to what they did before. Training can help people broaden their horizons and consider new kinds of work.

Self presentation

People who have experienced rejection rarely present themselves positively. Some show clearly that they don’t expect to get the job, others ‘oversell’ themselves. Training can help people to understand their strengths and weaknesses and to present themselves positively, on paper and face to face.

Soft Skills

The strong focus that employers place on personal characteristics and soft skills means that any employment preparation, which leads candidates to improve and hone their soft skills is likely to contribute to a positive employment outcome. Soft skills can be hard to define but generally include people skills (a natural ability to communicate), interpersonal skills, problem solving , critical thinking skills, team work and collaboration.

Learning works best if it is linked to a real job

Training is much more effective in getting people back to work if it is focused on a specific kind of work, preferably linked to the opportunity to demonstrate the skills learned to an employer, through work placement, or trial jobs.

How important are qualifications?

People aged 50+ often say that employers give too much weight to formal certificates at the expense of experience and motivation, although they sometimes find that acquiring a qualification later in life does not make much difference to the chance of finding work.

The three kinds of qualifications most likely to be useful to your 50+ customers are:

  • ’Licence to practise’. Some qualifications are essential for some jobs, where the law requires that people have them. Employers generally expect to recruit workers who are already qualified.
  • Basic skills / ’Skills for Life’. Most jobs involve literacy and numeracy, and ability to use the English language. Qualifications exist for all of these.
  • General qualifications. Some qualifications are used by employers to sift through job applicants, not on the grounds of specific skills or knowledge but on the basis of general ability.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland all qualifications are currently being reorganised into a single National Qualifications Framework. The aim is to make it easier to understand what a particular qualification means, and for learners to progress from one level to another.

You can find details on the Gov UK website..

This case study illustrates how training in literacy and IT helped an unemployed driver find work.

Case study 1: how training can help the 50+ back into work (New Challenge)

Francis had a successful career as a driver until October 2009 when he was made redundant. His final job, a month later, was a temporary one which had lasted only two weeks. Since then he had been unable to find work as a driver.

He was referred to New Challenge, a specialist subcontractor involved in the European Social Fund programme in October 2010. His adviser Caroline noticed that although Francis was open and willing to co-operate, he lacked confidence and didn't say very much. She made sure she took time to build a relationship with him before moving on to more active measures to help him find work.

At the first assessment session Caroline noticed Francis was taking a long time to read any material he was given. He was also slow in completing a form. She wondered whether this slowness stemmed from poor eye sight or issues with literacy. It turned out to be the latter and Francis acknowledged that he found it difficult to fill out application forms and this put him off applying for jobs he wanted. He welcomed Caroline's suggestion that he take an adult literacy course. He also started an IT course for beginners. He received a certificate for Entry level 3, which was not accredited, but it meant he could enrol for an accredited level 1 course at a later date.

At the same time, Caroline and Francis looked at his CV. Caroline thought it didn't show the transferable skills he had acquired throughout his career and so she went through his employment history with him to see what they could add.

She realised that although he had a full, clean UK driving licence, he didn't have a digital TACO card which prevented him from applying for jobs he had skills for, such as driving a 3.5 or 7.5 tonne vans. So the next step was to apply to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) for the card entitling him to drive heavy goods vehicles, thus extending his employment opportunities.

When they had done this, they started to work on job search skills. Caroline coached Francis on how to speak to employers. When employers asked for candidates to apply by phone, she phoned them first and then let Francis speak to them. She took the same approach with written applications. Francis would draft his applications, which Caroline would check, before he filled in the actual forms. They also sent speculative applications and held mock interview sessions.

Gradually Francis's skills and confidence increased to the point where he was able to complete job applications on his own. Caroline also encouraged Francis to network to extend his range of options. As a result of his networking, a friend pointed him in the direction of a job opening at an international courier company who were looking for delivery drivers. Francis approached the company himself and secured a one-week work trial. Because of his good performance, he was offered a permanent position as a 7.5 tonne lorry driver.

Behind his success was the range of training he had undertaken and the personalised approach

This case study shows how an ex-carer who had no work experience other than child minding was able to find an administrative role after taking IT and business courses.

Case study 2: how training can help the 50+ back into work (Wise Owls)

Jackie, 56, of African origin, had spent most of her life as a housewife. Having left school at 16, the only way she had been able to earn any money had been to look after the children of her neighbours and acquaintances. She learnt about Wise Owls through a drop-in session at her local library and was able to join their ESF programme for ex-carers as she had been caring long term for her husband who had died six months previously,

Jackie didn't want to return to child minding as it didn't bring in enough income and she also thought of it as a job that required no qualifications. Suzan, her adviser at Wise Owls, saw that Jackie clearly had ambitions. But there has always been something that had prevented her from them and now she wanted ‘a proper' job. She felt that she had been looking after others her whole life and she now wanted to put herself first.

She had ideas of becoming a receptionist or something similar. She had good communications skills and was happy to talk to people on the phone. When Suzan carried out a skills analysis based on her previous caring responsibilities, she found that it revealed that Jackie had skills which were suitable for admin roles. But there was a major obstacle because Jackie didn't realise that she would need to have IT skills to work as a receptionist. Suzan explained that IT skills are needed for virtually every role these days. She then forwarded Jackie a few job advertisements with the types of role Jackie was interested in so that she could see for herself what skills were required. And to reinforce the point and get Jackie to use a computer, she started sending her job advertisements by email, rather than showing them to her in the office. As a result Jackie started using IT naturally and without thinking about it.

But there was still a long way to go. Jackie helped look after her grandchildren so she could only look for a part time job. Suzan saw that Jackie wouldn't give up and explained how she would accompany her on her journey.

First Suzan needed to find a basic weekend IT course which Wise Owls would pay for in part. Wise Owls ask their customers to cover part of the costs of their courses to ensure they are committed to attending them but the amount they pay depends on each individual's circumstances. In Jackie's case, it was suggested that she cover the final exam costs of £60 while Wise Owls undertook to pay for the course itself (which cost £250). The course ran at weekends over six weeks and provided distance support. As Jackie had computer at home, she could practice with her grandchildren. She started to become excited and often phoned Suzan to ask various things about working with a PC.

After passing the basic IT course, the next stage in Jackie's journey was for her to enrol in a business course so that she could acquire adequate admin skills. But before that she needed to find a work placement to gain sufficient elementary IT skills. Suzan made a few calls and fortunately there was a receptionist volunteering position available with Brent Council. In haste, they put together a CV and sent off an application. Jackie was accepted for the position.

Jackie's new commitments meant that she had much more to cram into her weekly schedule. Along with her business course, she had to fit in her child care responsibilities, her work placement and the IT course. But her new life style was a positive change - she felt energised and proud of how much she was managing to do. She was pleased too to have more social contacts than in the past when they had been limited to her family members.

After her three-month business course had ended, she felt it was time to start looking for a job. And there was another lucky coincidence - a job opening had become available at Brent Council. Jackie's manager recommended her for the position as she had been so satisfied with Jackie's performance as a voluntary receptionist. She was offered a permanent post as a part time administrator of in-house training courses for the whole of Brent Council.

Her new role required skills which Jackie had not used as a receptionist, but, knowing this, her employer understood this. With the help of Wise Owls, her manager drew up an appropriate induction programme and increased Jackie's workload and responsibilities gradually.

Jackie has been in her first 'proper job' for 18 months now and is enjoying her new life and what she has achieved. Although the job opportunity came as a stroke of luck, she would not have been able to apply for it had she not been prepared for it and had she not been able to demonstrate her qualities while working as a volunteer receptionist.

This case study describes how one 50+ jobseeker discovered how difficult it was to find and apply for jobs without basic IT skills

Case study 3: how training can help the 50+ back into work (Age Concern North Tyneside)

One of Age Concern North Tyneside’s customers had to stop working as a chef as his job had given him health problems. It wasn’t so much the job itself as he enjoyed his work. It was the hours he had to work - split shifts which meant getting up early and finishing late which all became too much for him.

But he was still keen to work and started to look for a catering job in a residential care home as this would give him the regular hours he was after and was something he was well qualified for. He had a shock, however, when he discovered how many jobs were being advertised on job vacancy and company websites, and that online application forms were becoming the norm. This was a far cry from how he had expected things to be, and was a real problem as his IT skills were very limited. It meant that not only was he unable to find jobs, he could not apply for them either.

He needed IT training and attended Age Concern North Tyneside’s Walk through Windows introductory IT course. He was soon looking for and applying for jobs online. It wasn’t long before he found himself a good job working as a chef in a residential care home, having spotted and applied for the job on the web.

This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.