Never too old to go it alone

Never too old to go it alone

Carl Hopkins, a former ‘Secret Millionaire’ on Channel 4, explains why he is backing a venture aimed at encouraging older people to start new businesses.

A few people expressed surprise when they read the announcement that I had accepted an invitation to become an ambassador for The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (The Prince’s Initiative or PRIME).

This organisation was set up in 1999 by the Prince of Wales in his 50th year, in response to letters he was receiving from people who wanted to work but were unable to find anyone to employ them, simply because of their age.

Why did I say yes? The simple answer may be that I’m just two years away from my own 50th, so perhaps I’m investing in my own future. But actually it was after being invited to present awards at a PRIME event in the North that I started to look at the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics.

These show that the number of people in work has increased to 29.73 million - 584,000 more people compared to the previous year. The unemployment rate has also gone down to 7.8% - 156,000 less compared to the previous year.

While this is good news, we need to ask whether these changes are having an impact on people over the age of 50. If we take a look at the number of people over the age of 50 claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) in the long-term, a different picture emerges.

While there are more than 416,000 people aged between 18 and 24 claiming JSA in total, which is around 162,000 (64%) more than the over-50s, the number of long-term over-50s claimants has increased while the number of young long-term claimants has decreased.

On top of that, opportunities for the mature worker are stark. There are more than 3.5 million people between the age of 50 and 64 who are workless in the UK and for many people in this age group, redundancy and unemployment is a significant problem.

However, the number of self-employed workers in the UK has increased at just over 4.2m and this is good news for the over-50s worker as it demonstrates that it is possible for anyone to start up their own business and gain sustainable employment.

The 35 to 49 age group makes the biggest contribution to the number of self-employed workers, with close to 1.6 million people. Interestingly, the second highest contributor to the self-employment numbers was the 50 to 64 age group and there are also 345,000 workers who are 65 and older who consider themselves as self-employed.

The Prince’s Initiative is now an established charity and since 1999 has gone onto help more than 25,000 over-50s who are unemployed or facing redundancy, to explore the possibility of self-employment.

At present, The Prince’s Initiative offers support through several key initiatives. First of all, members of the public can access a plethora of online resources through the charity’s website, such as how to write a business plan and how to navigate around tax and accountancy issues.

The Prince’s Initiative also helps run business training courses located across the country. These are delivered over six to eight weeks, including three classroom days, taking people through the challenging process of preparing to run their own business, covering areas such as researching a business idea, planning finances and how to market and sell a product or service.

Then there are regular networking events across the UK, open to all over-50 entrepreneurs to come and share their stories.

These events are always well attended, with presentations from successful entrepreneurs, as well as being an excellent opportunity for over-50s to meet other new entrepreneurs, local business owners and mentors. Networking can often be a little daunting but is an essential aspect of setting up any new business.

Members of the public who eventually get through the course are also offered the opportunity to be matched up with a mentor, who can provide guidance and advice on how to grow a successful business.

The Prince’s Initiative use resources provided by the national ‘Get Mentoring’ programme and mentors are matched with clients of The Prince’s Initiative, who are looking to set up their businesses in fields which match their accumulated experience and expertise.

Carole Tattersfield is a good example of how The Prince’s Initiative is helping over-50s explore self-employment. Having attended the course in Bradford in the summer of 2012, following a decision to take voluntary redundancy, Carole, from Heckmondwike, went on to set-up her own HR consultancy business, HR Challenge Associates.

The Prince’s initiative firmly believes that mature workers do not have to remain on benefits or be denied equal opportunities in the employment market. They are actively helping to mobilise a significant number of people to have the confidence to venture out on their own and use their accumulated wisdom and expertise. These are the same people who often find themselves in challenging situations simply because of their age.

It is a great initiative and it gains support and momentum as awareness builds. We have to make every effort as a society, community and as business owners, to tap into and use the accumulated skills and experience this growing group have to offer.

I hope more groups and businesses step forward to help The Princes initiative. After all, if you are not yet over 50 I’m sure you are planning to be in the future, so start helping others and start helping yourself. ■