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How Retired Workers Can Help Solve Ireland's Talent Shortage

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Older workers are an untapped talent pool says MD of Matrix Recruitment, Kieran McKeown

Three-quarters of the Irish workforce believe that those over the age of 50 are offered fewer work opportunities than younger people and a third[2] (33%) believe that those over 50 find it more difficult to move jobs.

“This is a stark revelation considering the age at which people can retire is set to increase now and into the future,” states Kieran McKeown, General Manager of Matrix Recruitment which conducted the research.

“Right now, the age people in Ireland qualify for a state pension is 66, and this is set to rise further in the years ahead due to Ireland’s aging population. The notion that over 50s should have fewer progression opportunities, or indeed employment opportunities at all, is concerning, particularly when this age cohort has 16-18 years of work left ahead of them before they reach retirement age,” Kieran adds.

Ageism an issue in Ireland

More than two thirds (68%) of people surveyed by Matrix Recruitment said that workplace ageism is an issue in Ireland. But the question is, why?

“There’s a popular saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ and this notion is certainly prevalent in the working world. There is a belief out there that the older you are, the less capable, the less adaptable, and the less willing you will be to open yourself to new skills and challenges, compared to younger candidates or colleagues.”

Despite these negative connotations, the majority (94%) of Ireland’s workforce surveyed by Matrix Recruitment believe those over the age of 50 have as much to contribute to the workplace as those under the age of 40. Of those:

  • 93% said over 50s have many years of experience

  • 76% said they will have more life skills

  • 70% said they will be able to mentor and guide younger colleagues

  • 42% said that over 50s will be loyal and stay working in the company for longer

“Older workers are an untapped talent pool for many employers,” says Kieran McKeown, adding: “with talent markets growing more and more competitive, those over 50 can provide companies with a competitive advantage. Candidates in their 50s bring a lot to the table, chief among them being skills, ideas and a breadth and depth of knowledge that only comes with years of experience. It can also be far more cost effective for companies to employ these candidates rather than training up someone young and less experienced, as the experienced candidate can hit the ground running.”

There are many sectors right now that are struggling to find candidates to fill roles, particularly in sectors such as finance, but these roles could be more easily filled if companies where open to the idea of attracting talent that is in the older age bracket or indeed, encouraging retirees back into the workforce.

Retiring from retirement

Coming out of retirement is normal in the sporting arena. In Formula One, two-time champion Alonso announced his retirement in 2018, but after two years he was back in the driving seat and had reignited his F1 profession. Another sporting hero to come out of retirement recently is National Football League star, Tom Brady. The Tampa Bay Buccaneer player returned to the spotlight just two months after saying goodbye to his teammates. So why not normalise coming out of retirement for all workers who wish to return to the workforce, says Kieran McKeown.

“The majority of job vacancies that come into Matrix Recruitment seek candidates for full-time positions, and this is particularly the case for sectors that are struggling to fill roles. But if companies want to attract alternative talent, then they need to make their company and job vacancies attractive for a vast variety of people.

“For instance, older workers, particularly those retired, may look for work for reasons other than financial security. Instead, they might yearn for the routine or socialisation that comes with a job, or they want to be given a challenge that will keep them mentally sharp. This talent pool may only want to work a few hours a week or on set days. In this scenario, offering a flexible office-based role, or creating job shares might be the best route forward,” suggests Kieran.

Returnships are another option for companies who want to tap into the older talent pool. Like an internship, these formally paid work placements can support older workers as they transition back into the workplace and help them to learn new skills that will allow them to succeed in a modern workplace.

Returnships often include a buddy scheme and mentoring which can benefit both the older employee and their younger mentor, allowing skills and knowledge to be shared both ways. Creating teams that combine people of different ages, experiences and backgrounds can maximise a company’s potential by drawing on each individual’s knowledge.


While ageism is clearly a form of discrimination, it can oftentimes be caused by unconscious bias. As such, managers may not be aware of the negative stereotype they have subconsciously projected on mature candidates. We need to rid the jobs market of bias in all forms if we are to create a jobs sector that is open to all.

Unconscious-bias training can help managers become aware of any subconscious prejudices they have and educate them in order to reduce discrimination. But this alone is not enough. All companies should have a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion programme, and age should be a part of this - it may seem obvious, but diversity encourages more diversity. Talking to varied groups of people reduces bias, so the best way for companies to fight ageism and remove unconscious bias towards older workers is to employ people in this age group and allow them to flourish,” says Kieran McKeown.

[2]Matrix Recruitment 2021 workplace equality survey