Done on the labour market or an asset for society?

Icelanders between 55-64 years of age are far more hardworking than the corresponding age groups in the Baltic countries and Finland. This is the conclusion of a Nordplus project which has looked into incentives and attitudes towards work and further education.

If you are 55 years old or older then it is a waste of resources to further educate you, and, actually, we would preferably not hire you. This attitude pervades the Baltic states and, to a certain degree, Finland as well. Barely half of the 55-64 year olds have a job. So tells Mona Riska, manager at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the Åbo Akademi University in Finland. She has been the project coordinator on the project ‘Sustainable and inclusive working life for 55+’ onwhich the three Baltic states, Iceland, and Finland have cooperated.

“We ended up looking at the pension schemes, comparing the pull and push factors, and examining how the labour market works,” says Mona Riska.

The result of their work is laid out in a rich report. The differences between the nations made a big impression on Pekka Tenhonen who also works at the Centre for Lifelong Learning in Åbo.

“The first thing that comes to mind is how different the thinking is in Iceland. They don’t want to retire – they want a salary instead of a pension,” Pekka Tenhonen says.

Raised accountability

Unfortunately, many people over 55 years of age do not have the possibility to work – that is, if they are not living in Iceland – because the employers will not employ them. The reasons for this, studies show, are their lack of language - and IT proficiencies, and that, at the same time, employers fear that employees have more sick leaves.

The latter is a myth, Mona Riska points out:

“We know that, in Finland, the workforce of 55-64 year olds are not ill any more than their younger colleagues are.”

Fact is that it is hard to find a job for the oldest part of the workforce. Statistics show that there is approximately ten percent higher unemployment in all the participating countries when you look at the group that is 55-64 years old. Behind these numbers there is one more problem. In Finland e.g., they are struggling with hidden unemployment among the oldest and youngest groups of the workforce. They can only get part time jobs and the number of people in part time jobs increased with 28 percent in just one year (2013-2014).

No further education

A common feature among the Baltic states is that further education is close to non-existent once employees have reached the age of 55. Irina Kulitane from Latvia has a dream. She is the CEO of the company Konso Ltd, and she wants to chance this situation.

“When every single company educates and takes care of their workforce, regardless of age, then we will have reached our goal – but that will not happen in our lifetime,” Irina Kulitane says.

She advices both public institutions and larger companies in strategy-, research-, and development projects and handles project coordination in numerous projects. Therefore, she is greatly in contact with both the public- and private sector in Latvia.

She tells that normally only the biggest companies prioritise further education, but that smaller companies might have other options.

“Not that many people know about this project, but some do. I keep on telling about it – and I believe that changes in society must develop through snowballing. It will – I think and hope – but it is important to keep it going; it cannot stop,” she says.

Lack of initiative

Irina Kulitane points to the fact that a change in attitude towards work is needed too.

“We have to directly do something to the target group. Sometimes they lack initiative so much, and sometimes the problem isn’t about skills and professionalism. Sometimes you just have to do something to improve the situation for yourself and the people around you,” Irina Kulitane says.

She is sure that many would thrive in a more active working life.

“Many people are lonely. A job helps you keep on board in society,” she explains.

In Latvia and the other Baltic states, the most senior part of the workforce often battle poverty in a very real way.

“I wouldn’t call the employment rate low. Still many people have to work because the pension is insubstantial. You can’t survive if you live solely on a state pension,” Irina Kulitane says.

You can find the report here:

The pension system and labour market for 55+ in the Baltic and Nordic countries