Forget Gen Y, female baby boomers are the changing face of the workforce

BY KIRSTEN ROBB / JUN 16, 2015

Forget Gen Y, female baby boomers are the changing face of t...

The number of older Australians participating in the workforce is rising, with an increased number of Australian women working past the age of 55, according to research from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research.

The study comes off the back of the Intergenerational Report, which recently highlighted the ageing workforce and the importance of employers taking older employees into consideration.

The wide-ranging research, titled Two Decades of Change: The Australian Labour Market 1993–2013, shows the number of both men and women in the workforce over the age of 55 had increased significantly in the last two decades.

In particular, it showed a sharp rise in the number of women aged 60-64 still in the labour force, jumping from 15.2% in 1993 to 45% in 2013. The number of women aged 55-59 working in 2013 had hit 65.3%, from 36.8% in 1993.

Likewise, the number of men aged 65 or older working or looking for work doubled in the two decades to reach 17% in 2013, while the number of those aged 60-64 had increased from 48.3% to 62.5%.

Roger Wilkins, who co-authored the report with Mark Wooden, told Smart Company the swell of older Australian women participating in the labour market reflected a broader societal shift in female labour force participation.

“Twenty years ago, older females had very low participation rates, so there was an enormous amount of scope for change there,” Wilkins says.

“Twenty of thirty years ago, younger women began heading into career-type employment… Those women are now aged 50 to 60, so a lot of the increase is reflecting that.”

Wilkins says the steadily increasing age of pension eligibility over the past 20 years is also reflected in the research.

Asked if this ballooning of an ageing workforce will continue, Wilkins says while it is speculative, there is “certainly still plenty of room for a further increase of older workers”.

“I would be surprised if it got up to levels [in other brackets], but there is considerable scope for a further increase in the participation rate of 55 and over,” he says.

Meanwhile, Nikki Brouwers, chief executive of workplace rehabilitation and health specialist group Interact, says the research is a reminder for small businesses to consider employing older Australians. Brouwers recommends employers consider several ways of attracting and retaining an older workforce.

“Firstly, employers need to consider the flexibility of work hours. Older workers will often want to work earlier and finish earlier,” she says.

“There’s also the consideration of learning styles. Online learning for example might not be the best approach for older workers.”

Lastly, Brouwers says there are other issues such as ergonomics, lighting and movement that employers should take into account.

“What small business employers need to realise is they don’t need to be experts, they just need to engage with their workers, because at the end of the day, they will be best able to articulate what they need,” she adds.

This article first appeared at Women’s Agenda sister publication, Smart Company.

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