The Hon Susan Ryan, Ambassador for Mature Age Employment, and Colin Johns, Managing Director of Transformer Services, Adelaide, November 2015
Guest post from the Hon Susan Ryan, Ambassador for Mature Age Employment
Like many economies across the world, Australia is facing urgent challenges with our ageing population.
The 2015 Intergenerational Report External link. projects that the number of Australians aged 65 and over will more than double by 2055, when there will be around 40,000 people aged 100 and over (1).
In 2055, men can expect to live on average to 95.1 and women to 96.6 years (2).
For anyone running a business, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity.
We hear a lot of alarming predictions about the effects of this ageing on our budgetary outcomes over the next 40 years. But we don’t have to accept this outlook. We can take positive and effective action, and harness the power of our older citizens.
Over the last five years, the annual average rate of population growth for mature age people was 2.8 per cent, outpacing that for all people aged 15 years and over (1.6 per cent).
In short, there is a growing pool of older people in the Australian economy. From a national perspective we need to make sure that as many as possible are employed, and for as long as they are able, to maintain our productive capacity and prosperity in the future. Tapping into this growing pool also makes good business sense.
The bigger picture: The trend is in the right direction, but we have to speed up
There are many older individuals who are willing and able to work, but cannot find work.
It is clear that there are huge benefits to the broader economy from employing mature age workers.
- According to a 2012 report by Deloitte Access Economics External link. , an extra 3 percentage points of labour force participation among workers aged 55 and over would result in a $33 billion boost to Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—or around 1.6 per cent of national income (3).
- Similarly, a 2012 report by the Grattan Institute External link. estimated that increasing the mature age (60-69 years) labour force participation rate by 7 per cent would raise GDP in 2022 by $25 billion in 2010 dollars, or 1.4 per cent (4).
But what about at the business level? How does boosting mature age participation benefit me?
Employing and retaining mature age workers can help your business grow and thrive.
Mature workers are reliable, flexible and ready to contribute from day one. As well as bringing a lifetime of experience to your business, mature workers are also great mentors to other staff.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry External link. has identified a number of benefits for individual businesses in increasing participation of older workers. These include:
- getting a better return on your investment in human capital by retaining or recruiting experience
- tapping into a source of skill and labour when sources of labour become scarce
- benefiting from the strong commitment to work by mature aged workers
- being able to market your business as a good employer by promoting diversity in the workforce (5).
You could also gain a real advantage over your competitors by making better use of the skills and experience of mature age workers –it allows you to capitalise on customer bases that are also ageing. Australians in the age bracket 45-64 years own half of Australia’s household wealth (6). Employing mature age workers can allow you to capture older people’s perspectives in the development of strategies and products, to tap into this huge pool of consumer wealth (7).
Using mature age workers to grow your business
As Commissioner for Age and Disability Discrimination and Ambassador for Mature Age Employment, I advocate that Australian businesses and employers support workplace diversity, including age diversity, to meet their obligations under anti-discrimination law, but also to go further and use the mature age population to grow their businesses.
This approach is not only good for your bottom line, but provides mature age Australians the dignity and social benefits that come from contributing to workplaces, communities and the broader economy.
Plus, your business can benefit from taking on mature age workers through the government’s Restart wage subsidy scheme. This programme provides a wage subsidy up to $10,000 to an employer who hires and retains an unemployed person over 50 who has been on benefits.
One employer who has already used Restart successfully is Colin Johns, Managing Director of Transformer Services, External link. who has gained a number of skilled productive mature workers for his Adelaide electrical engineering company.
Other employers, especially small and medium sized, should follow Mr Johns’ lead and avail themselves of the experience, loyalty and stability of older workers.
Correcting false perceptions about mature age workers
In November 2015 I took part in the Illawarra Mature Workforce Participation Roundtable (8) organised by the IRT Foundation at the University of Wollongong. The aim was to correct false perceptions about mature age workers and to improve choice and quality of life for over 50s.
The Roundtable brought together representatives from business, government and the community sector to share positive experiences and stories of mature age employment—something we need much more of.
Most of us know Bunnings—a highly successful company and one of Australia’s best employers when it comes to supporting the community and recognising the value of mature workers. It’s one of the few companies in Australia that understands and acts on the many strengths older workers can bring to the business.
In Wollongong we heard of local success stories. John Kelly was able to transition from a job in the steel manufacturing industry to the aged care sector; Dion’s Bus Services, a small family business, operates successfully in the Illawarra region with a high proportion of older workers.
I was also pleased to be shown how the IRT Foundation’s ‘Intergenerational Job Share Initiative’ works in practice. The flexible work practices under this initiative enabled one job to be shared between Natasha (a young mother) and Safrina (an older worker with very good qualifications but who had experienced difficulty finding a job in the past) to their mutual benefit.
Age discrimination means lost opportunities for Australian businesses
There remain many challenges to overcome in boosting mature age employment. These are currently the focus of the Willing to Work: National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination Against Older Australians and Australians with Disability External link. which I am conducting (9).
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2015 National Prevalence Survey of Age Discrimination in the Workplace found that one of the biggest barriers to Australians enjoying longer and more productive working lives is age discrimination. This discrimination is widespread and affects all kinds of Australians, everywhere.
Age discrimination is most commonly experienced when older people are out of a job and looking for paid employment rather than while they are in a job or running a business. These potential employees are ignored because of deeply rooted negative stereotypes.
The stereotypes are wrong but we can only get rid of them if all parts of the community work collaboratively.
And this is starting to happen.
I urge employers to consider their recruitment processes and ensure they have a pool of appropriately skilled workers available. Don’t deny your business the value experienced workers are willing and able to contribute.
If you’re an employer looking to hire, regardless of what industry you operate in, let your local jobactive provider find the right mature age worker for you.
About the Hon Susan Ryan
Susan Ryan was appointed as Australia’s first Age Discrimination Commissioner in 2011 for a five year term.
Up until her appointment as Commissioner, she had been Women’s Ambassador for ActionAid Australia and chaired the Australian Human Rights Group since 2008. She had also chaired the Australian Human Rights Act Campaign Inc. since 2005.
Being a strong advocate for mature aged job seekers throughout her career, Ms Ryan was appointed as Ambassador for Mature Age Employment in June 2015. She is helping to drive greater awareness amongst employers of the business benefits of hiring older workers and help open new doors for job seekers