Older workers need ‘career check-ups’, says Age Discrimination Commissioner

Date September 17, 2014
  • Judith Ireland
Check-up: Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan has said older employees should have routine career check-ups much like they have health check-ups.

Check-up: Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan has said older employees should have routine career check-ups much like they have health check-ups. Photo: Andrew Quilty (AFR)

Australians approaching their 50s should have routine “career check-ups” to prevent unemployment as they get older, just as they would have a regular health check-up with their doctor, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan says.

In a bid to address Australia’s ageing population and unemployment among 50 and 60-somethings, Ms Ryan said there should be a nationally co-ordinated approach to help everyone at midlife “check where they are and change direction if they need to”.

Ms Ryan will tell the National Press Club on Wednesday that TAFE colleges should be at the centre of the plan where workers would be given a skills analysis and advice about what sort of job they could expect to do for the following 20 years, particularly if they are in a declining industry, physically unable to continue their existing job or burnt out.

“This is not a crisis management plan,” she will say. “It is a preventative approach that would have older people recharging and moving smoothly to the next stage of employment.”

In her address, Ms Ryan will also announce that she has asked Roy Morgan to conduct the first ever national prevalence study of age discrimination in the workplace. The survey will begin in coming weeks, with initial results in December and a full report in March.

“I do not wish to pre-empt its results; my guess however, is it will signal an urgent and massive challenge,” Ms Ryan will say.

She will tell the Press Club there are millions of people over 55 who want a job but cannot get one: “older people are more likely to be unemployed long term than any other group”.

She will also note that more than 50 per cent of age discrimination complaints made to the Australian Human Rights Commission relate to employment.

The Age Discrimination Commissioner will discuss the negative assumptions that younger people – particularly those under 35 – have about older workers. She will argue that the workforce needs to move away from a model that “seeks and favours only the youthful, presumed ‘hungry’ and ‘high energy’ dynamos”.

“The new model should include all skilled and high energy candidates, regardless of how many birthdays they have chalked up.”

Ms Ryan, who was education minister under the Hawke government, will also argue for greater flexibility in the job market. “All employers need to ditch assumptions that job flexibility is an aberration to be reluctantly granted only to women returning from maternity leave.”

Ms Ryan said those in their 50s and 60s could be working at close to the levels of those in their 30s and 40s.

“It makes serious economic sense, as well as common sense, to harness this human capital.”

Modelling by Deloitte Access Economics for the Human Rights Commission shows that a 3 per cent increase in workforce participation for workers over 55 – beyond an already expected 2.7 per cent by 2024-25 – would contribute an extra $33 billion to Australia’s GDP.

This comes as the government seeks to increase the pension age to 70 by 2035 to make welfare spending “sustainable”. The previous Labor government already increased it from 65 to 67 by 2023.

Source: SMH

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