Age not a barrier but an advantage to some bosses

THE common assumption that employers do not like hiring older people is wrong and many would prefer someone older than 55 to a younger worker from overseas, research shows.

A government-funded study by Monash University researchers of 600 big organisations suggests that after decades of discrimination, attitudes towards older workers are changing.

Philip Taylor, the director of research and graduate studies, and his team found that during labour shortages 50 per cent of public sector employers put the recruitment of mature workers at the top of their agendas.

About 40 per cent of private sector bosses said they too would look to the over-55s.

By contrast, less than a quarter of the employers surveyed – public and private sector – said they would recruit migrant labour to fill workforce gaps.

The research deviates sharply from studies which have found a strong current of institutionalised ageism in workplaces is responsible for the disproportionately high level of mature-age unemployment.

”I’ve been involved in surveying employer attitudes since 1991 and this is the first time I’ve seen such a willingness to employ older workers,” said Professor Taylor. ”We had expected that, on the back of the economic downturn, employers would be less favourable towards older workers. This is a significant and surprising shift.”

Professor Taylor said that rather than discrimination, a lack of relevant skills might be keeping mature workers out of a job.

”There is a tendency for people to say, ‘it’s my gender, my ethnicity, my age, that’s the problem’. Well, hang on, maybe it’s not,” he said.

The comments drew a strong response from organisations representing older Australians.

Charmaine Crowe from the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW said her organisation encountered many mature workers who struggled to find work regardless of their skills. ”I’m hopeful that attitudes are changing but I think we’ve got a long way to go.”

Matt Higgins from olderworkers.com.au, an online recruitment company, said some industries were far better than others. ”Retail employers are much better. They realise that a lot of their clientele are mature age and so mature workers will relate to them better,” he said.

”But the fact is that Australia is behind much of the developed world when it comes to mature-aged people participating in the workforce. That can’t simply be attributed to a lack of skills.”

He said there was a handful of business types, such as hardware stores, where the knowledge and experience of older workers were consistently seen as an advantage.

The manager of the Mitre 10 at Matraville, Ross Salter, said he looked out for older workers. ”People like old-style customer service, and they like people who know the tools,” he said. ”They’ve worked as tradesmen at some point or another and bring a lot to the business.”

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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