This article is part of Amway’s ‘Driving Entrepreneurship in Europe’ Knowledge Network
For many people, retirement is associated with the image of an elderly man or woman sitting at home and taking care of the grandchildren or keeping busy in the garden.
Contrary to popular belief, however, retirement is not a final stop for the 50+ generation.
Europe has started understanding that people with experience and knowledge are an invaluable asset and must be used for the benefit of individuals, economies and society.
For this purpose, the 50+ Entrepreneurship Platform Europe was created by a group of like-minded organisations, corporates, NGOs and academics. Their mission is to ensure policy makers understand, appreciate and harness the important contribution that 50+ entrepreneurship can make to Europe’s economy and society and create an environment in which 50+ entrepreneurship can fulfil its potential. Its aim is to raise public awareness and political support for those over the age of 50, as well as to identify and promote the needs for additional entrepreneurship initiatives and research.
New Europe met with Jacques Spelkens, the head of CSR Benelux at ENGIE, and Philippe Vanrie, CEO at EBN innovation network, to discuss the opportunities of this new initiative, as well as the challenges it faces at present.
‘No bold promises’
Anyone who decides to work for themselves can be considered an entrepreneur, whether it is for a so-called mice or gazelle enterprise. Although today there is no large-scale research in the EU on the performance of companies set up by older entrepreneurs, the findings of some studies suggest that, on average, they have higher survival rates than those run by younger people.
The mission of the 50+ Entrepreneurship Platform is to help older people develop the necessary business skills and to create additional opportunities after retirement.
Indeed, the goal is challenging considering the present socio-economic situation in the EU, but Vanrie believes that encouraging older people to become self-employed can bring results.
“It is very difficult culturally to say that one of the options for 50+ is to be self-employed,” he said. “In my opinion, it should be presented rather as the window of opportunity, where being well-trained and self-employed can lead to the next level – setting up your own start-up company. Policymakers have to cut the red tape in order to create a self-employed register, enabling potential businessmen to get access to all governmental services.”
‘Intergeneration cooperation is required’
One of the tools that can help tackle challenges when developing the 50+ Entrepreneurship Platform s to promote closer cooperation between generations. The preparation of the older generation can go smoothly if young people contribute actively to the process by sharing their knowledge in IT or other digital technologies, where old people may remain behind.
“Ideally, the seniors in companies should be coaching the young employees, but there should be a mutual exchange in terms of knowledge as there is no doubt that young people and IT technologies have a shorthand,” said Spelkens.
However, the process of mutual coaching cannot go as smoothly as it appears in theory. In most cases, companies have to reduce the number of employees after reaching 55, which potentially should lead to opening opportunities for young graduates, who are eager to find jobs in the European market. But this is a myopic strategy and it has many pitfalls, warned Vanrie.
“An intergeneration approach is necessary,” he said. “It is a big misconception to think that the dismissal of people who reach their 50s can lead to the automatic filling of their vacancies by younger ones. It is not a solution, but a problem, which should be addressed carefully. Instead, we have to embed schemes where young people can work with the elderly. This policy can help improve the conditions and create a successful business, which in turn, create value, jobs and helps attract investments.”
According to the statistics, the European Union is facing unprecedented demographic challenges. The ageing population is one of the first issues the EU needs to address promptly.
Moreover, high unemployment among young people, which in some countries has surpassed 25%, does not increase the possibilities of people over 50+ to find a place in the job market.
“On the one hand, we have governments that are prolonging the careers at work until 70, with no certainty that the pensions will be paid at the same level people are expecting,” said Vanrie.
“On the other hand, we have high unemployment among young people, whose grievances should be addressed as well. At a certain level there will be a clash because seniors tend to stay longer in the companies, whereas vacancies for young are not as numerous as their expectations.”
Despite socio-economic problems in the EU, which hamper the process of development and application of entrepreneurial skills of people aged 50+, they are not the last in line for other challenges. Bureaucracy and the lack of attention from the EU policymakers also play a significant role.
“We have to admit that policymakers, including the European Commission and the European Parliament, are not investing enough attention into this subject,” said Vanrie. “The society can implode if policymakers do not address this problem, and the goal of the 50+ Entrepreneurship Platform is to raise awareness about the topic from both the social and economic point of view.”
“I think that the perspective of social Europe is neglected by policymakers,” added Spelkens. “We have to remember that it is the inhabitants who make Europe. If they are unhappy and live in a bad social system, they will be completely fed up with politicians and institutions.”
In Europe, where population growth is slowing down while population ageing accelerates, the demographic situation reflects the deep transformations in the age structure of European populations. However, at present these structural changes are not fully recognised either at the EU level, or at national ones. Required reforms of social protection systems, healthcare and long-term care arrangements, are considered an important component of the constructive response to population ageing.
Nevertheless, the focus should also be on the inclusion of people aged 50+ in economic life, which will make Europe even more prosperous.