Removing an age-old taboo to work

The West Australian by Rhys Prka

FOR the first time in history, 2019 will see four generations of Australians in the workforce at the same time and the nation needs to make the most of it, according

to positive ageing advocate and Global Ageing Network Director Marcus Riley.
The reality is older workers still face obstacles to employment. “There are a lot of barriers to people remaining in the workforce or coming into the workforce at an
older age that’s really underpinned by cultural ageism,” Mr Riley said. “It is unacceptable to have such prejudice continue unchecked. Policies and practices to prevent age discrimination must therefore be enforced in workplaces.

“We do need to understand more and more people will be looking to work past that
traditional retirement age of 65, some out of necessity, some by choice, and there is great value for us to provide for and promote that older workforce and really harness this great resource that quite a lot of people can provide.”

A survey in October 2018 of more than 900 human resource professionals conducted by the Australian HR Institute and supported by the Australian
Human Rights Commission found 20 per cent of Australian employers were still reluctant to hire workers over a certain age. For two-thirds of this group, that age was over 50.

However, 28 per cent – an increase of 20 per cent from 2014 – said their organisations were not averse to employing older workers. Nevertheless, Mr Riley said recent data indicated one in five working older Australians had experienced workplace age discrimination.

“Many more report great difficulty in regaining employment after time out of the workforce as well as being prematurely forced out of employment,” he said.
“The exclusion of older workers will come at a huge cost, affecting productivity developments and progress of industries as workforce requirements increase
over coming years.”

Mr Riley had this advice for older Australians wanting to remain or re-enter the workforce: remain proactive, be flexible and pursue new opportunities. “Being proactive is really about engaging as early as possible with existing employers or prospective employers to determine whether there are ongoing options for you,” Mr Riley said. “Be flexible and stay open to different opportunities; learn and
retrain and renew the skills you have or pursue new ones.

“This is going to make you a better proposition for employment.” Mr Riley said it was important to factor in personal needs and passions. “One key point is to consider what income you need to sustain your lifestyle,” he said. “Another one is to reflect on your own passions and your own skills as much as possible
and to pursue opportunities that align with those interests and those capabilities.

This is going to present you in the best light possible to a prospective employer.”
Mr Riley said organisations had a part to play as well. “The onus will fall on organisations and their leadership teams to adopt older worker-friendly policies in order to survive this transformational period; it’s essential corporate Australia is ready to adapt,” he said.

Mr Riley said there were benefits to hiring older workers, one of which was their history in the industry. “Older workers can provide wise counsel through challenging periods that often less experienced staff haven’t been through before,”he said. “They can mentor and develop skills and capabilities in others
and share that knowledge and expertise.” Another advantage not talked
about often, according to Mr Riley, is the stability that older workers offer.
“Research shows older employees aren’t looking to change jobs or careers,” he said. “They have been through some of the different challenges of life and other external challenges and are able to provide that stable input into their workplace.”

Mr Riley said changes to health and financial stability would mean people stayed in the workforce for longer. “People are healthier, living longer and are generally more
educated than ever before – all contributing to an increase in the likelihood they will stay longer in the workforce,” he said. “This, coupled with likely changes to social security, pension entitlements and employee retirement plans, along with the
necessity to save more money for retirement, creates incentives to keep working.”