THE BLOG

Older Workers Need New Workplace Solutions

27/10/2015 5:38 AM AEDT | Updated October 27, 2015 05:42
Thomas Barwick via Getty Images
Businesswoman working on computer in office

The most recent ABS employment statistics confirm the employment rate has remained stable at 6.2 percent for the third consecutive month, a reasonably good trend for Australia as a whole.

But this does not reveal the key employment issues affecting older workers. The only element of the data which can provide a glimpse into older people's working or non-working lives is the decrease in the level of men and women in full-time employment, which can partly be attributed to the increasing number of people retiring accompanied with falling numbers of young people entering the workforce.

This is only one side of the story, though, and merely scratches the surface of the challenges that mature-age job seekers face. Two of those challenges are age discrimination in the recruitment process and intergenerational competition from younger colleagues for positions or promotions.

For example, ABS data from last quarter shows an increase in underemployment in both men and women aged over 55 who did not have as many working hours as they would like, which potentially results in not being able to make as an effective impact in their workplace as they wish.

Other hidden issues facing older workers include the limited training and promotional opportunities available to them, which can result in a lack of career progression, cuts to the number of work hours against employee's wishes, inflexible working conditions, and less opportunity to take on responsibility within the workplace.

All this can lead to older people 'self-selecting' out of the labour market -- a situation that is economically unsustainable, particularly given the government push for prolonging working lives.

This situation has occurred because employers, recruiters and wider society are largely unaware of, or choose to ignore, the numerous benefits that a healthy and productive older workforce can bring to a business, such as experience, knowledge, skills and mentoring abilities.

The effect of mature-age unemployment and underemployment has multiple and complex far reaching implications on several areas, including an individual's finances, physical and mental health and general wellbeing.

Yet, mature age labour force participation is just the tip of the iceberg.

As a society we do not yet fully understand, let alone are prepared to deal with, the impending issues facing ageing populations. For example, how will our health system respond? What effect will it have on the economy? What are the entrepreneurial and commercial opportunities? What innovative responses will dominate? The consideration of just one issue in isolation, such as employment, is therefore futile.

Crucial to responding to the complex issues of ageing populations, including foreseeable workforce challenges and opportunities, will be an interdisciplinary approach to ageing. We need to consider local and global topics, encourage innovation and foster strong leadership in this area. But, most importantly, we need to fill the leadership gaps that exist and create champions in an interdisciplinary, intergenerational and international approach to ageing.

Through university programs and research collaborations, policy makers, business professionals and other university graduates are well placed to become the leaders we need in the rapidly expanding ageing sector.

They are the ones who can shift the focus of ageing, remove barriers for older people and place living a healthy and productive life as a vital policy priority.

This must be accompanied with a seismic shift in thinking from that of the current narrative of impending chaos and doom, to one of growth, innovation and opportunity.

Fostering interdisciplinary research and cultivating qualified professionals with a holistic overview will be the positive and productive way forward to achieving that.

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