Australian workers are getting older, but a lot of bosses aren’t on board
A tight jobs market could be a boon for older job seekers, but the often-overlooked demographic still faces a fight against deliberate and subconscious bias.
Older workers are being welcomed back amid the ongoing labour shortage. Photo: Getty
Indeed talent strategy adviser Lauren Anderson said while there has been an uptick in older Australians looking for work based on recent economic challenges, the population in general is working longer.
“After all, 55 today looks different to 55 a couple of decades ago,” she said.
Some organisations, such as Bunnings, are “leading the way” in cultivating a diverse workforce.
But others are dragging their feet; Ms Anderson said by doing so, they’re depriving their younger workers of mentors, and representation for their older customers or clients.
Obstacles for older job seekers
With the increasing economic pressures on everything from housing to food, older Australians looking to stay employed or get back in the game are at a significant disadvantage.
This could have dire repercussions, particularly for older women, who form one of Australia’s fastest-growing homeless demographics thanks to a lifetime of earning lower wages than men, accumulating less superannuation than men, and takings more breaks from work to bear children and care for family.
A 2016 Australian Human Rights Commission report found people aged 55 years and over made up about a quarter of the national population, but only 16 per cent of the total workforce.
The report also found older people face longer periods of unemployment, with the average duration of unemployment for mature-age people sitting at 68 weeks, compared to 30 weeks for 15 to 24-year-olds and 49 weeks for 25 to 54-year-olds.
The age at which an employee would be considered an older worker varies between industries, although a 2021 Australian HR Institute report found the majority of HR leaders, academics and business leaders surveyed classified an ‘older worker’ as someone aged between 61 and 65.
Older workers can be a valuable resource for organisations. Photo: Getty
High salary expectations and a lack of technological skills were among the top reasons behind a reluctance to take on older workers in the report, but experts told TND knowledge and experience should trump everything else.
Fiona Macdonald, industrial and social policy director at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, said presumptions that older workers won’t have, or be able to pick up, relevant skills, or are more prone to injury, are stereotypes that contribute to ageism.
The AHRC also found these sort of presumptions have been disproved.
“There are lots of benefits to hiring older workers,” Dr Macdonald said.
“Older workers can often mentor younger workers; older workers will have a lot of knowledge that’s very difficult to transfer into a younger workforce if you don’t have that diversity.”
Dr Macdonald said the onus is on employers to improve their recruitment practices and open their minds to a more diverse talent pool, including in regards to age.
But older workers can help matters by proactively networking, and thinking “creatively” about what kind of jobs to apply for.
Information such as university graduation dates, or dates in general, on a resume can be a dead giveaway to age.
But you don’t have to include them on a resume if you’re concerned about making it through the first stage of an application process, Ms Anderson said, as long you’re also not misrepresenting yourself or your age.
Some industries tend to employ a younger demographic, but they could be missing out on a large talent pool. Photo: Getty
She said upskilling by completing courses to keep skills and knowledge up to date could also be beneficial, as can getting a trusted friend to look over your resume and make sure you’re not selling yourself short.
And if you feel confident and comfortable doing so, feel free to bring up your age during a job interview to address any potential misgivings a potential employer might have.
At 3.7 per cent, the unemployment rate is still significantly lower than it was pre-pandemic, and Dr Macdonald said the tight labour market could lead to more opportunities for mature workers.
“When the labour market’s tight, employers are … willing to think a bit more creatively about diversity in the workforce,” she said.
“The other thing [is that] there has been much more focus on flexibility at work in recent times, and I think that can be really important for some older workers who often have other responsibilities [and] may be, depending on their age, wanting to transition out of full-time work.”
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