Over 55s the key to business growth

With the economy facing capacity constraints and the population ageing, it doesn’t make sense to have skilled people driving taxis.

Fifty-year-olds are still perceived as being past their used-by-date in the workforce.  At the same time, the latest census data reveals that 11 per cent of Australia’s population is between 55 and 64.  It is these people that the ICT industry needs to do more to attract, retain and retrain.

Research analyst firm, Mercer, says that workers aged 55 and older, particularly women, appear to be the answer to the ongoing skills and labour shortage – not generation Y – and Australian employers must consequently shift their focus from young to old to maintain productivity.

Research findings reveal that by the year 2012 the amount of workers in the labour force aged 55+ will increase by 14 per cent whilst the amount of workers aged 25-54 will increase by only 5 per cent.

Furthermore, the amount of women aged 45+ will increase by 12 per cent whilst the number of men in the same age group will increase by only 6 per cent

Mercer’s Tim Jenkins says that there’s a sense of urgency for employers.  By 2012 demand for skills is expected to increase 18 per cent in the construction industry; 13 per cent in the accommodation, café and restaurant industry; and 12 per cent in the wholesale industry, but with no guarantee that demand will be met with supply.

“In four short years there will be close to a quarter of a million more workers aged 55+ in the Australian labour force and assumptions about what an employer should expect from an employee, and vice versa, have to change.

“Australian employers have to re-define what the average daily and weekly job looks like and how it is remunerated in order to hold onto older workers, maintain productivity and keep downward pressure on wages that, according to our research, are forecast to rise at an average annual rate of 4.2% between now and 2012.

This seismic demographic shift threatens the sustainability of many Australian businesses.

So why does a recent survey by career management firm, Linkme.com.au, tell us that almost three-quarters of Australians believe that finding new employment – across all industries – after 50 is almost impossible.

People are telling me that they feel ‘on the scrapheap’ once they hit 45, and yet these are the very people who have a lifetime of skills and experience to harness.

One woman I spoke to said she was advised to change her resume to say ‘more than 10 years’ experience’ instead of ‘more than 20′ and to remove the dates from her degrees – all to reduce the perception that ‘older’ means ‘out-of-date’.

In industries where work is increasingly based on knowledge-creation, the focus needs to be on the workplace as a key arena for encouraging ‘lifelong learning’ as part of work.

Retaining and retraining older workers will save recruiting costs, maintain institutional memory and technical knowledge and give a higher return on investment in training.

However, it’s not just the responsibility of employers.

Employees need to recognise that they work in a fast-paced industry where training is paramount.  Continuing employment or re-entering the workforce may require a commitment to retrain and some attitudinal shifts too.

The most important factor in a mature person’s employment prospects is: are they adaptable?  Those most at risk of redundancy and underemployment have had fewest opportunities to acquire new skills and develop a positive attitude to learning.

Australia’s economic growth – and our industry’s prosperity – is partly dependent on mature-age workers remaining in the workforce for as long as possible, so it’s time to discard negative perceptions of baby boomers and support them in their working lives as much as Gen-X and Yers.

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Anon said,

    I feel like I’ve been placed ‘on the scrapheap’ because I’m over 50. In my experience, many recruitment companies use computer programs that filter resumes, to help them select the best candidates. Only problem is that they discriminate against certain demographics – namely the over 50s. My resume was dead and buried until I removed my age and all the dates for jobs going back past 1985.

  2. 2

    Tim Defries said,

    I agree. I’ve heard countless times of people being told to remove their date of birth from the top of their CV. That said, it does make sense to focus on your most recent career achievements. The pace of change is so quick that what happened in 1985 is aeons ago.

  3. 3

    Matt said,

    My Father and I have just launched a web site ( http://www.olderworkers.com.au ) aimed at linking older workers, mature age workers and age friendly employers.
    On Friday I spoke to a young girl about recruiting older workers and she said she didn’t think she would have anything suitable as there was lifting involved????? It was as if once you turn over 40 you suddenly become completely feeble. We have 600 registered jobseekers on our site so far and high percentage of them have encountered age discrimination of some kind. There is a huge underutilised workforce in Australia and if employers don’t pay attention they will be missing out on a resource that is readily available.

  4. 4

    Sheryle Moon said,

    Matt thank you for the comment and the website – I have sent it on to a few people in the RossJuliaRoss (www.rossjuliaross.com) business. I have also had experiences of young people sayings such things as older workers are not creative, not menatlly alert, not agile. As a baby boomer myself who is very active, rides a motorbike and is a senior executive I find it amazing that we undervalue a pool of workers who coudl contributeb to relieving the current skills shortages.

  5. 5

    Matt said,

    I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, this girl actually worked for a recruitment agency and should have known better. For some of these mature age workers it’s not just about finding “A” job, but getting training and re-skilling themselves and becoming bigger assets in their workplace.

    We are finding that older workers realise they are going to have to work longer as their current superannuation accounts just won’t be enough to retire on when they had expected to, while others who have retired are bored at home, miss the comraderie at work and most of all have a great deal to offer employers.


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