There has been a lot of discussion in the media and at governmental level about the difficulty older workers experience finding jobs, particularly the long-term unemployed. Yet among OECD Member States, Switzerland ranks among the top five countries with a relatively high employment rate among 55 to 64-year-olds. Early retirement trends have declined and labour market participation of 55 to 64-year-olds has increased from 65% to 73% over the last twenty years.

Longer, more active working lives

Two main factors are driving the positive figures in Switzerland: the gradual increase in the age of retirement in Switzerland and the general trend towards increased participation in the workforce, notably of women. Among non-active people aged 55 to 64, 31% reported in 2018 that they did not work because of disability (21%) or temporary inability to work (10%). Almost a quarter cited personal reasons for not being active, while 27% took early retirement and 16% retired at the regular age. A minority of just 3% reported that they had no or little opportunity on the labour market.

Surprising growth

In 2018, the labour supply of people over 55 years of age was about 792,000 active persons employed in full-time equivalents (FTEs). These older workers account for almost a fifth of the overall available workforce of the permanent resident population in Switzerland. This increase from 16% a decade ago comes despite significant social charges and, for some, a certain stigma. Many of the employers of older workers are SMEs, who appear to welcome this age group more than others. No other age category recorded comparable growth in the labour market over the last ten years.

The recent submission to the Swiss Parliament of a financing bridge for older people who have been unemployed for some time and have great difficulty reintegrating the labour market is a positive step. For some, it is almost impossible to find a job after the age of 60. The Baby Boomer generation is often sandwiched between ageing parents who need care at prohibitive expense and children who prolong studies or have difficulty entering the job market.

Interest and investment in lifelong learning

While financial support is certainly a step in the right direction, upskilling or reskilling are further measures that would support older workers and boost long-term employability. According to TravailSuisse, employers are often reluctant to contribute to funding of continuing education measures for people aged over 50. This reluctance is misguided given that people in this age bracket tend to remain with their employer for a long time, offering high commitment and productivity. Online and offline training courses for any budget are an important investment in full digital literacy.

As the labour market changes…

Employability is very much a buzz word in today’s market. Even if older workers are recognised for their great experience, reliability and loyalty, employers are not inclined to hire people over 50. They are more expensive in terms of social security contributions. Some employers fear a lack of flexibility, a different pace, lower creativity or poor integration into a younger team. However, the greatest scourge of older workers in the labour market is their – potential – skills gap for our increasingly digital economy.

Whatever their age, workers must ensure that they continue to learn for life. Cultivating all kinds of social networks and engaging in secondary or voluntary activities, particularly if unemployed, are also ways to gain new skills.

Positive outlook

With an increased focus on competences rather than strict job profiles, artificial intelligence (AI) may help support the selection of older workers in the future. After all, forward-thinking companies appreciate the value of human experience, knowledge and knowhow at any age.