Number of over-50s in the workplace has jumped dramatically over last 15 years

Britain's ageing population means that the number of older people in the workplace is set to soar over the next decade.

All the signs are that such a transformation is already taking place, with the number of workers in the 50 to 64 age bracket jumping by almost two million during the past 15 years.

That age group is also the only one to see their employment rate rise since the start of the recession, according to official statistics.

There were nearly 7.7 million 50-to-64 year-olds in work in the quarter to June, up 54,000 on the first three months of the year.

The average age at which men bow out of the world of work has steadily increased from 63.1 in 1993 to 64.8 today.

Women are also staying in the labour market for longer, with the average woman now retiring at the age of 62.6, compared to 60.9 two decades ago.

The practice of hiring and retaining older workers has long since lost its novelty, with over-50s set to account for a third of the entire UK workforce by the end of this decade.

The rise in longer working lives has not been at the expense of younger workers, according to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Bringing back early retirement schemes would be a mistake since over-50s can help to mentor and develop new recruits and apprentices, and maximise productivity across the workforce, the study concluded.

The authors said older workers were not only essential in meeting the long-term demand for labour in our country, but also an opportunity to add value to business and help accelerate our economic recovery.

"Britain is in a global economic race and in order to win we must embrace our ageing population and the wealth of skills and experience older workers bring to business," pensions minister Steve Webb said.

"While things are improving, more still needs to be done to hire and retain older workers. Employers who ignore the talent pool on offer amongst the over-50s are likely to suffer skills shortages and lose a key competitive edge."

Copyright Press Association 2013