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“Levelling up in Later Life: Sustainable futures through lifelong learning” (Advert Reference: RDF22/BL/LHRM/WARHURST)

   Faculty of Business and Law

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  Dr R Warhurst  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


To contribute to Levelling Up and sustainability policies through examining later-career workers’ experiences of working and learning for continued employability


In the context of employment, sustainability involves building human-capital and realising individuals’ potential through enhancing employability and ensuring quality-work throughout working-lives. In many English regions, attaining such sustainability presents a challenge given decades of socio-economic deprivation. Therefore, the Levelling Up agenda is at the heart of current government policy, with £4.8 billion pledged to narrow regional divergence, crucially through employment tailored to the needs of local economies (UK Government, 2021; LGA, 2021a, 2021b).

The research will be based in North-East England where the IFS (2020) highlight the “daunting task” of Levelling Up through reversing inequality caused by entrenched unemployment and workforce precarity (Blustein, et al., 2020).

Individuals in the later stages of their careers, defined as aged 50+ (Luger et al., 2012), are significantly more likely to face premature retirement, long-term unemployment and under-employment than other age groups (Hill, 2021). Within the North-East, unemployment among 50+yo is 6.7%, compared with a national average of 5.0% (Nomis, 2021) but with premature retirement masking much of this unemployment barely half the national average of 55-65yo is in employment (Centre for Ageing Better, 2021).

By 2045, 25% of England’s population will be aged 50+, and the North of England is comparatively ‘older’ than the South (IPPR, 2017), so without significant changes to later-career employment-retirement patterns, this share of the population will face increasing hardship, creating socially-divisive financial burdens for all tax-payers.

There is evidence that later-career workers are “wishing to participate for longer” (Billett et al., 2011, p.1250). Extending working lives though necessitates later-career learning and development (Grant, 2017). Yet later-career workers are often neglected in terms of formal L&D opportunities (Resolution Foundation, 2021; Findsen and Formosa, 2011). While informal development is later-career workers’ preference (Warhurst and Black, 2017, 2015), opportunities for ‘learning-in-the-flow-of-work’ (Bersin, 2018; CIPD, 2021) are also limited. Yet there is no evidence that later-career workers are averse to learning, and ‘learning-in-the-flow-of-life’ (Deloitte, 2019) continues unabated in later-life (Dede and Richards, 2020). A key element of achieving Levelling Up is therefore to sustain later-career workers’ continuous learning.

Research Questions

  • To what extent are later-career employees represented in the workforce?
  • To what extent do later-career employees perceive they have learning needs to sustain their continued employability and to what extent are these met within, or beyond, employment?
  • How are later-career employees learning and how effective is this in sustaining later-careers?

Research approach

  • Approach: Comparative case-studies (Dul and Hak, 2008) across private, public and not-for-profit organisations within the North-East.
  • Sample: Organisations selected based on evidence of an age-diverse, or an age-skewed, workforce.
  • Mixed methods: Analysis of quantitative data on the representation of later-career employees and the learning opportunities available, combined with qualitative data from employees, allowing a balance between levels of analysis and perspectives (McKim, 2017).


The study will provide policy guidance on a currently under-researched area of extending and sustaining later-career employees’ working lives within the political context of Levelling Up.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Principal Supervisor – Dr Russell Warhurst

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Black, K. and Warhurst, R. (2021). Lost and Found: parkrun, work and identity, Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health. doi/full/10.1080/2159676X.2021.1924244
Warhurst, R. and Black, K. (2019). Meaning in Mentoring: More Than Meets the Eye/“I”, Human Resource Development Review,
Black, K and Warhurst, R. (2019). Career transition as identity learning: an autoethnographic understanding of HRD’, Human Resource Development International, 22(1), 25-43
Black. K., Warhurst, R. and Corlett, S. (2018) Identity as a Foundation for HRD (Eds.). Routledge
Warhurst, R. and Black. K. (2017). What do managers know? Wisdom and manager identity in later career, Management Learning, 48(4), 416-430.
Black, K. and Warhurst, R. (2015). It’s never too late to learn. Journal of Workplace Learning, 27(6), 457-472
Warhurst, R. (2016). A question of identity: understanding managers’ receptivity to learning. Personnel Review, 45(4), 764-781.
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