Older workers face challenges but some employers are responding
Social Affairs Reporter
If you’re over 50 and looking for work you face some tough choices: 15 years on Newstart until you reach pension age and hundreds of job applications which go nowhere. But some large employers are responding writes Rachel Browne
Mature workers Peter Kitson-Crowe 65 (left) and Ronny Brennan 64 (right) at their work, Masters Home Improvement in Casula, Sydney. Photo: Kate Geraghty
At 64 years old and a grandfather of 10, Ronny Brennan doesn’t fit the profile of a typical sales assistant.
While many of his contemporaries are seeing out their 60s on the golf course, Brennan spends his days organising stock and advising customers at Masters Home Improvement in Chullora.
I’m too young to retire but apparently too old to get a job.
Deborah Murray, 58-year-old job seeker
A former locksmith, Bobcat operator and gardener, he tried retirement but his wife ordered him to get back to work.
Mature aged worker Peter Kitson-Crowe. Photo: Kate Geraghty
“I thought it would be hard to find a job at my age but this came up and I jumped at it,” he said. “I want to keep working. I’ve got no intention of retiring.”
His colleague Peter Kitson-Crowe, 65, is similarly motivated: “I’m not going to retire. I’m too young. I want to be here into my 70s.”
Kitson-Crowe was a corporate banker in a time “when you reached 55 you were gone”. The Menai man took a package from his former employer when he was in his early 50s to focus on settling his young daughter into school. After a period of working as a financial consultant and mortgage broker, he decided he wanted a “fresh start” and now works in freight at Masters.
Masters Home Improvement is part of Woolworths, one of an increasing number of large employers actively recruiting workers aged over 50.
Mission Australia chief executive Catherine Yeomans is urging more companies to follow suit to offset the growing ranks of the mid-life unemployed who won’t reach pension age for many years.
“Australia is changing and workplaces need to keep up with that,” she said. “Nowadays, 60 is no longer considered old, people are having children later, and many are paying off mortgages later in life. It is nonsensical to prejudice older workers who bring a great deal of skills, knowledge and expertise which should not be overlooked.”
People aged over 50 comprise more than a third of the long-term unemployed and one-quarter of Newstart recipients.
Brennan and Kitson-Crowe are two of the lucky ones. But it can be a bleak picture for many, according to Judy Higgins, director of Older Workers, Australia’s leading job board for the over-50s.
“The longer they are out of work, the harder it is for them,” she said. “It does affect their self-esteem, it does affect their mental health. They go downhill very quickly.”
Deborah Murray is 58 and has been out of work for more than three years. While caring for her elderly mother in Sydney’s east, she’s applied for hundreds of jobs but refuses to lose hope.
“It is tough. I’m too young to retire but apparently too old to get a job,” she said.
“You get so many knockbacks you get to the point where you just don’t care. You just feel as if nobody wants you. You have to keep trying, though. You can’t give up.”
Murray previously worked in accounting but has been turned down for basic office administration roles.
“Being unemployed is one of the biggest drawbacks in itself,” she said. “Employers look at you and wonder what’s wrong with you.”
IT systems engineer Mark Gerrey, 51, has applied for more than 500 jobs in the past four months, joking that looking for work has become his “full time job.”
With 22 years’ experience in the navy and a decade in IT, he’s learned to decode the language of the job advertisements.
“If they use words like energetic, bright and enthusiastic they are after a 25-year-old” he says. “You may as well not apply.”
Gerrey, of Campbelltown, believes experience and maturity are undervalued by many recruiters.
“I’ve commonly heard that I am over-qualified for a role,” he said.
Buthe, too, refuses to give up on his job search, ever hopeful that some upcoming interviews will lead to work.
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