Over-50s leading the way in British enterprise

Posted on Jan 16th, 2014 | News and opinion

For the growing number of over-50s starting new businesses in the UK, being ‘past it’ is an expression reserved only for perishable goods. As unemployment rises, the older generations have increasingly used experience and business acumen to form a national vanguard of self-starters.

Unemployment among those aged 50 to 64 has doubled since the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis. This means increased pressure not only on the welfare system but on the financial stability of families around the country; longevity and commitment to a role no longer necessarily translate to job security.

A survey conducted in 2013 by YouGov and commissioned by PRIME showed that 73% of people believe those over 50 find it tougher to get work than younger generations. Furthermore, 65% of older people believe age discrimination still exists within the workplace and sometimes extends to their daily lives.

We spoke to Paul, 56, a published author with a PhD in economics and a long track record of success, who was recently made redundant by his consulting firm. He commented:

“I missed my number by a hairs breadth, as did all but one other consultant in the firm. They decided to eliminate my position even though demand for my services clearly still exists; it’s a young business – I know, but I could never prove, that my grey, thinning hair was a factor in their decision.”

Despite these statistics, there is growing evidence proving the resourcefulness of the British as a whole, with over-50s leading the way as the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs – the Office of National Statistics shows that this demographic has one of the highest number of self-employed workers in the UK. As people are forced to re-define success and think outside of traditional business structures, more and more over-50s are starting their own business ventures.

According to the Office of National Statistics, there are now 4.2 million self-employed workers, making up 14% of the total workforce. This figure is set to grow to almost 50% within the next 30 years. A significant contribution to this increase was made by the over 50s, with more than 1.7 million mature entrepreneurs in the UK. This is an increase of 21% over the past four years, accounting for 20% of the over-50 workforce.

Dr Lesley Galpin, 54, a self-employed market research consultant, told us:

“As someone who has worked in the industry for 30 years, I have proved my value…I have experienced significant change and am comfortable with it. It is important to remain vigilant to changing market conditions and be flexible and fleet-of-foot in order to respond to them. The confidence to do this, I believe, comes not so much with age, as with experience.”

The ‘retirement plan’ came early for Jill Topliff Frost, 56, and her husband, John Topliff, 57, who founded Manchester-based Three-minute Theatre after they were made redundant from their positions as college drama teachers in 2011. They had always planned to own a theatre but “didn’t think they could pull it off,” until they were forced to re-evaluate their financial and professional positions.

“We knew that at our age we would find it hard to get a job, so we took a risk and went for it,” said Jill Topliff Frost in an interview with the Guardian. “I’ve discovered I’m a natural entrepreneur and I had no idea. I wouldn’t do anything else now.”

A worry amongst some older entrepreneurs is the perceived technology gap. Younger people, termed by the media as ‘digital natives’, are often thought to have an advantage over so-called ‘digital immigrants’ because they understand the fast-evolving digital world from the inside.

However, The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME), a national charity that helps unemployed and out of work over 50s start their own businesses via on and offline resources, training courses and mentoring schemes, has found that the majority of those they help show the willing and determination to learn the skills required to effectively maximise the digital resources available.

Jennie Burraway, PRIME Development Manager for London and the South East, said: “We have found that the over 50s who go through our courses or attend our networking events have a healthy and open attitude to technology and are willing to learn these skills as they will ultimately benefit the sustainability and success of their businesses.”

A far cry from the over-reported ‘Welfare Nation’, Britain’s army of older entrepreneurs, along with the significant rise in younger people involved in self start-ups, paint a positive picture for the future of a country hit by a double recession. The opportunities are indeed available for those who can see them and have the courage, or the need, to turn a dream into reality.

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Written by Sophie Turton

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