Older, Wiser and back in the market

Mature-age workers are finding ways and means to revive their careers: Meera Vijayan

When David Anderson was made redundant at 60 last year, the thought of going back on the job market was daunting.

As he applied for jobs, the former transport co-ordinator realised he faced an uphill task to find an employer willing to hire older workers.

Often, recruitment agencies and prospective employers would be enthisiastic about his credentials but after face-to-face interviews would reject his application.Anderson believes he was rejected numerous times because of his age. Some employers were subtle in their methods, but others took a more blatant approach. “One interviewer even asked me my age, despite it being illegal” he recalls.

With a family to provide for, Anderson persisted, sending out nearly 140 job applications before landing a job as a logistics co-ordinator with a large company. One of the avenues he used to apply for work was specialist job site,, www.olderworkers.com.au which “caters specifically for job seekers above the age of 45”

Judy Higgins, a consultant at OlderWorkers, says desoite the burgeoning interest the job site has had from the private sector, the toughest challenge has been getting through to the government over the hiring of mature workers. She has been in constant negotiations with the federal Government in the past 12 months with little success, often bogged down with red tape. “The government is one of the hardest of organisations for mature workers to get into” she says “Even thought they say they encourage employers to take older workers, they are very reluctant to do so themselves.

An Australian Government Productivity Commission staff working paper in 2006 reported that relatively low particiaption rates were recorded in the workforce for older men and women (ages 55 – 64). Australia ranked 13th within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average, lower than countries such as Canada, the US and Britain.

However, there are some positive signs emerging, with some organisations discovering the hidden potential in mature workers.

Luke Schepen, spokesman for retail giant Woolworths, says his organisation has identified mature-age workers as the future priority for its diversity and equal opportunity strategy.

He says Woolworths which works closely with OlderWorkers, is more actively tracking its employment numbers, particularly those over55, and noting staff turnover trends. “The mature workforce is not only a very reliable workforce but there are plenty of opportunities available for them” he says.Schepen notes that 6.2% of Woolworths workforce is above 55, with staff turnover among mature-age workers the lowest of any age group.

Although Woolworths has a high proportion of younger employees, with 45% under 25, the organisation recognises the input from older workers is significant, Schepen says. “They also provide a valuable mentoring and development role for our younger employees” he says. “It has certainly struck the right balance for us in our stores and across our divisions”

Jenni Proctor, Managing Director at Career Clarity and Redesign Retirement, says mature workers have the option of changing career paths and starting a small business, harnessing their skills and experience. Proctor says many owrkers over 50 feel their careers options have narrowed and are left wondering how to revitalise their careers. “Many ar etired of doing the work they hav always done and are attracted to the freedom of retirement, but they don’t want to give up work completely they just want to do things differently,” she says.

Proctor says there are many success stories of older workers who have found their passion and purpose career-wise by unleashing previously undiscovered entrepreneurial skills. One of her clients is a women who works at a post office and has a history of taking on jobs below her capabilities.Proctor says her client has always enjoyed travelling and bicycling and has since managed to create an online business combining her two interests.

Another client who works in a company dealing with motorcycles is developing a home business to help his clients customise their bikes. He plans to continue his business once he gives up his present employment.

Proctor says choosing an entrepreneurial path can prove fulfilling and profitable if older workers follow several guidelines.

Among the factors leading to success is learning and researching how online and contemporary business work. This includes understanding how to market a business online.Proctor also advises her clients to invest sufficient time to make an educated decision on what business line to pursue, the same amount of time they would take when making a key career change.” I also tell them to make a list of all the transferable skills they have, as well as things that make them happy, as it will eventually make them more resilient about making their business happen,” she says

Proctor says that to make a business idea work, it is important to prospective entrepreneurs to identify gaps in their knowledge and take the necessary steps to fill them.” Target what you don’t know when you make the transition,” she says.”If you don’t do the groundwork to minimise the risks, you can end up falling in a heap.”

One of the biggest reasons older workers are hesitant about making a career change is because many are afraid of failure or really succeeding.” It helps to consider that they are really afraid of, whether it is the fear of losing money or succeeding and wonderingwhy they didn’t pursue it sooner,” she says

If the clients fears are financial, the general yardstick is whether they would survive if they did not make money in the irst two years of starting business. Proctor says a career change may end up a risk well worth taking, particularly for older workers looking to redesign the tradional concept of retirement.

Source: Weekend Professional

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