A tight jobs market could be a boon for older job seekers, but the often-overlooked demographic still faces a fight against deliberate and subconscious bias.
Older workers are being welcomed back amid the ongoing labour shortage. Photo: Getty
The job hunt can be tough for anyone, but older Australians are often eliminated early on.
Indeed talent strategy adviser Lauren Anderson said while there has been an uptick in older Australians looking for work based on recent economic challenges, the population in general is working longer.
“After all, 55 today looks different to 55 a couple of decades ago,” she said.
Some organisations, such as Bunnings, are “leading the way” in cultivating a diverse workforce.
But others are dragging their feet; Ms Anderson said by doing so, they’re depriving their younger workers of mentors, and representation for their older customers or clients.
Obstacles for older job seekers
With the increasing economic pressures on everything from housing to food, older Australians looking to stay employed or get back in the game are at a significant disadvantage.
A 2016 Australian Human Rights Commission report found people aged 55 years and over made up about a quarter of the national population, but only 16 per cent of the total workforce.
The report also found older people face longer periods of unemployment, with the average duration of unemployment for mature-age people sitting at 68 weeks, compared to 30 weeks for 15 to 24-year-olds and 49 weeks for 25 to 54-year-olds.
The age at which an employee would be considered an older worker varies between industries, although a 2021 Australian HR Institute report found the majority of HR leaders, academics and business leaders surveyed classified an ‘older worker’ as someone aged between 61 and 65.
Older workers can be a valuable resource for organisations. Photo: Getty
High salary expectations and a lack of technological skills were among the top reasons behind a reluctance to take on older workers in the report, but experts told TND knowledge and experience should trump everything else.
Fiona Macdonald, industrial and social policy director at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, said presumptions that older workers won’t have, or be able to pick up, relevant skills, or are more prone to injury, are stereotypes that contribute to ageism.
“There are lots of benefits to hiring older workers,” Dr Macdonald said.
“Older workers can often mentor younger workers; older workers will have a lot of knowledge that’s very difficult to transfer into a younger workforce if you don’t have that diversity.”
Dr Macdonald said the onus is on employers to improve their recruitment practices and open their minds to a more diverse talent pool, including in regards to age.
But older workers can help matters by proactively networking, and thinking “creatively” about what kind of jobs to apply for.
Information such as university graduation dates, or dates in general, on a resume can be a dead giveaway to age.
But you don’t have to include them on a resume if you’re concerned about making it through the first stage of an application process, Ms Anderson said, as long you’re also not misrepresenting yourself or your age.
Some industries tend to employ a younger demographic, but they could be missing out on a large talent pool. Photo: Getty
She said upskilling by completing courses to keep skills and knowledge up to date could also be beneficial, as can getting a trusted friend to look over your resume and make sure you’re not selling yourself short.
And if you feel confident and comfortable doing so, feel free to bring up your age during a job interview to address any potential misgivings a potential employer might have.
“When the labour market’s tight, employers are … willing to think a bit more creatively about diversity in the workforce,” she said.
“The other thing [is that] there has been much more focus on flexibility at work in recent times, and I think that can be really important for some older workers who often have other responsibilities [and] may be, depending on their age, wanting to transition out of full-time work.”
‘Since we’ve existed, we’ve valued having a diverse workforce and that’s included older workers,’ says CPO
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) recently launched an initiative to connect older workers with employers. The pickyourpath.nz website is seen not only as an opportunity for the semi-retired who might be looking to mix short-term employment with retirement and regional travel, but also for organisations looking to recruit older workers.
One company that already knows the benefits of employing older workers is Bunnings.
“Since we’ve existed, we’ve valued having a diverse workforce and that’s included older workers,” says Damian Zahra, chief people officer at Bunnings.
“We’ve known for a really long time that our older team members play a really important part in creating a great place to work. They bring so much life experience, industry knowledge and trade experience – and our customers tell us regularly that they love that.”
Older workers make great mentors
Mature workers sharing their knowledge and wisdom doesn’t only benefit customers, adds Zahra.
“It’s terrific for our organisational culture and they actually become great mentors for a lot of our younger team as well.”
The ages of staff at Bunnings range from just 15 to some in their late 80s and even one person who’s 91.“For a lot of our older team members, while many have joined up post another career, a lot have been with us for their whole working life,” he says.
On average, roughly a third of Bunnings’ store team members are more than 50 years old while about 14% are aged over 60.
It wasn’t that Bunnings specifically set out to employ older workers when establishing its first warehouse branch nearly 30 years ago, says Zahra.
“An important part of our strategy for a long time has been to reflect the communities we operate in – that’s in our DNA. Part of that is embracing the wisdom that older team members bring.”
Multigenerational team helps business grow
Without doubt, this openness to older workers has helped the business grow, says Zahra. Not only are there benefits from the collegiality and insight a multigenerational team brings, but the mix of perspectives helps with innovating and decision-making, especially when helping customers solve problems.
“Reverse mentoring is actually very important, too,” he says, with many younger team members able to help seniors with aspects such as technology. “For a lot of our younger team, it’s their first job, so having the calmness of someone who’s got more life experience is really valuable. Our customers love it.”
Two years ago, the organisation introduced a Retiring Well programme that provides employees with support and information on transitioning into retirement. It allows them to plan ahead and provides advice on how they can enjoy financial, emotional and physical wellbeing in retirement.
“We also work closely with our team members to implement a tailored pathway to their retirement, which can allow them to reduce their hours over time to support a gradual transition,” says Zahra.
Some opt to change departments, for instance, to avoid heavy lifting, or for some it might mean a reduction in work hours or days over a period of time.
Workplace flexibility and older workers
One of the other benefits offered — which is well received by those of more senior years, as well as younger members — is the Travelling Team Member policy.
Not many people know about this outside of Bunnings but because we are lucky enough to have a network of stores across Australia and New Zealand, team members are able to work at different locations instead, so they have the flexibility not just based on hours, but also on location,” he says.
One older couple, who’ve been Travelling Team members for seven years, has been touring Australia with a caravan and worked at over 20 Bunnings stores.
“Workplace flexibility is something our team tells us they value enormously, regardless of which stage of life they’re at,” says Zahra.
“For a younger team member, it might be because they’re studying, or maybe those who have family commitments require flexibility. And we also find the same value for older team members who need flexibility to do things that are really important to them.”
More flexible approach to recruitment and training
The organisation’s flexibility extends to recruitment too – with written applications just as welcome from those who prefer to avoid tech – as well as the company’s approach to training, which also supports all ages.
“We like to think we create a place where everyone feels like they can be themselves and a really important part of that is that all of our team members, younger and older, can feel like their contributing to our high performing culture.”
By my 40s, I hope to be very comfortably established in my career, ensconced in a warm blanket of experience that makes me more valuable than ever to my employer.
But here’s a terrifying truth: age discrimination can start affecting you from 45, according to Diversity Council Australia.
Stereotypes about being too rigid, slow or technologically unsavvy abound and, depending on the type of work you do, that can mean work starts to dry up, or you find yourself unable to bounce back after redundancy.
So if you’re finding yourself edged out at work, you’re not alone.
Executive to unemployed
Tim Hessell was 48 when a company restructure made his role as an HR executive redundant. It took him two years to find another full-time position, despite having 25 years of experience under his belt.
That’s when things really started to unravel.
Finding a permanent position proved impossible, so he took on a series of contract positions.
“While that started out positively, over the years that whittled away until at some stage, in one year, I went for 60 different roles and was unsuccessful in all of them,” Tim says.
“[I had gone] from what once would be regarded as a successful career as an executive, to then being unemployable for whatever reason.”
No-one ever told Tim he was too old to hire. Recruiters were more likely to say, “‘You’re over qualified’ or ‘You’re not the right fit’ or ‘We think it’s better we give this role to someone who can grow through it, rather than yourself’.”
It was a demoralising experience, leaving him anguished and confused. He wondered whether there was something wrong with him.
“Then I looked at other colleagues in similar industries who were [having a] similar sort of experience.” He realised wider factors were at play.
He decided to tackle the problem from another angle: going back to university to do a PhD on the causes of ageism in the workplace.
But not everyone has to take such drastic measures. Here are some first steps to consider, as well as advice on activating Plan B.
Laws around age discrimination
The first thing to know is that age discrimination in Australia is “absolutely illegal”, says Robert Tickner, co-chair of the EveryAge Counts campaign and former Labor Party cabinet minister.
“Every state and territory, plus the national parliament, has outlawed age discrimination,” he says.
“So if people do think they’ve got some clear evidence of discrimination, they may wish to talk to the Human Rights Commission.”
The Commission’s Australia-wide information line is 1300 656 419.
However, complaints can be hard to test, says Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson.
She shares examples of two cases that were successful:
A 56-year-old who stopped getting casual shifts as a kitchen hand. He was told a younger person was replacing him to cope with the busy Christmas period. He received approximately $1,800 in lieu of four weeks’ notice.
A 75-year-old who was falsely accused of breaching work safety rules and had his hours cut, after the HR manager found out his age. He was awarded around $4,500.
With all of us bound to age (if we’re lucky), Dr Patterson has this warning for employers: “The climate you set will be the climate you inherit.”
CV and skills check
While the onus is very much on employers to change their attitudes towards older workers, there are a few things you can do to bias-proof your CV.
“You don’t have to put in your date of birth, and you don’t have to put your entire employment history [on your CV],” Mr Tickner says.
“You can skilfully craft a resume that highlights your skills rather than all the jobs you’ve had.”
For the jobs you do list, perhaps stick to more recent roles.
If you’ve had the same role for several decades and now find yourself out of work, consider refreshing your skills.
That could mean doing a TAFE course, or online courses — anything “so you project that your skills remain relevant today,” Tim says.
Also think about how you can demonstrate the depth of your knowledge and experience.
“Older workers sometimes take a lot of what they’ve done for granted,” Tim says. “They never realise quite what they know and the insights they can bring to bear.”
So consider how to convey that — “Not in a way that positions you as, ‘Back in the old days, this is how we did it’, but in a way that people say, ‘Oh, I never thought about it that way.'”
Look after yourself
Being unemployed is stressful at any age, but there’s evidence that older workers experience longer periods of unemployment between jobs. Think of Tim’s two-year stint looking for work after he was made redundant the first time.
“The stress of being unemployed, of worrying, can lead to mental health issues and depression and the like,” but keeping fit and active can help you cope, he says.
“You don’t have to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger, or go to the gym seven days a week. Just looking after yourself will be important.”
Mr Tickner also went through a two-year period of searching for work, during which he became “desperately unhappy and lost a lot of self-esteem”.
In addition to regular exercise, he credits the support of close family and friends for keeping him going.
“It’s important people talk to their friends if they’re having tough times. If there’s a need to seek professional help, then do that.” Feeling down is perfectly normal, he adds.
Consider a Plan B
If you’re still struggling, it might be time to think about a backup option — though that may be challenging at first.
“My thoughts being a baby boomer were that life was going to be fairly linear and sequential. You went to school, got a job, worked, then retired. Life teaches you that’s not always the case,” Tim says.
“I’d say, don’t define yourself by the work that you’ve always done. What are the other things that interest you? What are the things that are going to give you some sense of meaning as a person?”
Tim says broadening your sense of identity will help you avoid losing confidence and becoming angry.
“That’s what led me to a PhD.”
There are options for people in manual work too.
“A number of ex-trades people have ended up in retail,” Mr Tickner says.
“For example, there are a lot of older people who work at Bunnings. They have transferable skills gained over a life time in a particular trade or industry, and now they’re using those to help people gain expertise in the shop.”
For anyone reinventing themselves, Mr Tickner has these words of encouragement:
“Take heart and give it a go, because you might be surprised by the richness of life experiences that might unfold for you.”
Coming full circle
Tim sees the irony of being a former HR executive who was edged out of work because of ageist recruiting practises.
Working on his PhD made him realise that he was unwittingly part of the problem he’s now inherited.
“I thought I had been quite innovative [during my time in HR]. What I realised I did was recruited lots of young people, lots of women, lots of people of different ethnic background — but I didn’t recruit many older people.”
Was he ageist himself?
“I was. I didn’t realise it, but I was.”
Part of the problem, he says, is that “sometimes when you’re young, you never realise you’ll get old”.
He’s hopeful his PhD will now put him in a better position to consult organisations on their recruitment strategies.
Are older workers getting a ‘fair go’? No, and that must change, study finds.
New research into the treatment of older workers shows that many mature-age employees report experiencing discrimination in the workforce due to their age, and believe they are not receiving the same opportunities provided to other workers.
The research found there are more instances of older employees being laid off compared to their younger colleagues, while a stigma remains around their competency with technology and openness to change. Older women in non-managerial roles, working part-time or on a casual basis are more likely to report experiences of aged-based discrimination.
The research is part of a joint initiative by the Council on the Ageing (COTA) NSW and Challenger and is aimed at addressing the underemployment of people over 50. Importantly, the research considers the issue from the perspective of both Australian employers and employees.
“Australia’s mature-aged workforce is skilled and able – and older people are healthier than at any other time in history,” said Meagan Lawson, chief executive officer of COTA NSW. “But due to stigma and discrimination, there are fewer employment opportunities for people aged over 50.”
Key takeaways from the research include:
Many employers are unaware of age discrimination in the workforce but are willing to do something about it once it has been identified.
Businesses need support to understand how they are tracking, and the steps they can take to improve employment of mature workers.
Older workers believe a change in attitude by employers would help them financially and emotionally.
There’s a great diversity within mature-aged workers.
Ageing of the workforce is a critical challenge for the economy. In 1976, there were seven working people for every non-working person. In 2016, that had fallen to four to one, and according to the NSW Intergenerational Report, it will be two to one by 2056.
The benefits to individuals and the community go well beyond finance. Workforce participation is linked to better health outcomes and other positive well being indicators. But the research shows many mature age workers feel they don’t get a fair go, with excuses ranging from over-qualification and younger managers feeling threatened, to poor cultural fit and being bad for the corporate image.
“There is significant value to individuals, the community and the economy in supporting older people to work as long as they wish,” said Challenger chief executive officer Richard Howes. “Increasing workforce participation for older Australians will not only help improve overall well being but also contributes to financial security for a better retirement.”
Half the employers surveyed for the research believed they were doing enough to support older workers. While most employers have general workplace bullying, discrimination and equal opportunities polices in place, only a minority had specific policies that covered age discrimination in detail.
“Older workers should be more valued for the expertise, skills and experience they bring to the workplace, and building awareness around the issue of age discrimination with employers and employees of all ages is a key opportunity,” Ms Lawson said.
COTA NSW and Challenger are developing a toolkit to help employers implement age-friendly practices. It includes improved education for managers to address unconscious bias and improve hiring practices, as well as programs to help promote flexible working arrangements and anti-age discrimination policies. The toolkit will be available later in the year and will include initiatives to forge stronger connections between workers of all ages within an organisation and how to better train mature-age jobseekers.
“While not all older workers are the same, some uniform initial steps should be taken to address the issue of age bias,” Ms Lawson said. “There needs to be better education and training, more rigorous internal policies and structures, greater cross pollination among workers, and better access to job opportunities for older workers.”
Now, as the dust settles, the economy improves and the breadth of job opportunities increases, people are reflecting on their experiences. The perceived need to be ‘always available’ for work without any additional recognition, respect or reward has many realising that work itself is now a threat to their happiness, health, relationships and mental outlook.
Decompression will send employees out the door, unless work culture changes
This instinctive human response to threats makes room for bold choices that will play out in one of two ways, but both ultimately end with a mass movement of talent in the workforce.
Many workers in Australia feel their relationship with their job is irreparably broken and will flee from what feels like a toxic relationship. For others, the simple desire for change, to say, “it’s not you, it’s me” and draw a line under the past two years will be overwhelming.
Homeschooling and the pandemic have made people reconsider their work/life balance.
In the coming months we’re likely to see an emancipation on a scale we’ve never seen before as people change roles or start entirely new careers.
If this feels like you, be aware that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Starting a new role, establishing new networks and developing new skills takes time and energy, of which Aussies have precious little.
On the other hand, others will choose to fight for the life and lifestyle they feel they now deserve. Flexibility, respect and purpose will become the minimum employee demands.
Organisations who do not meet those needs will lose staff. Those willing to embrace radical flexibility, human-centric work design and progressive social causes will become talent magnets.
It’s worth reminding your boss of this if you choose to have a discussion about the future of your role. The best place to start is examining what you need to change about your job and be firm about what you’ll accept as minimum.
It also needs to be said that the luxury to reconsider a job or entire career is reserved predominantly for knowledge workers who enjoy a higher-than-average sense of economic stability. Many lower-paid or frontline workers will not have the luxury to make these decisions.
Rewriting the social contract: the rise of the four-day work week?
When economic conditions swing wildly in the favour of workers, it tends to pave the way for massive societal change. Take the introduction of the 40-hour work week, or how WWII paved the way for women to enter jobs previously reserved only for men.
We’re seeing the same thing in 2021. With the job market heavily favouring jobseekers, the premiums being offered to secure talent make a job change are an alluring prospect for most workers.
Combine that with an increased desire for flexibility in a role and Australians’ willingness to change jobs, and companies will be forced to come up with solutions that don’t involve a pay rise.
Imagine staying on the salary you’re on, but only working four days. Sounds appealing, right?
Whether you choose to flee or to fight for better, the future of Australia’s work practices are in your hands. There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australians to transform how we work and seize the lifestyle we want, but it won’t come from a job-switch alone.
As we enter this new era, it’s important to remember that we work to live, we don’t live to work. Prioritise your wellbeing and be clear with your employer about what you need. After the last two years, we all deserve at least that.
Aaron McEwan is a behavioural scientist, coaching psychologist and vice president for global research and advisory firm, Gartner | @aaronmcewan
New research of Australia’s older workers has found that experiences of age discrimination in the workplace have almost doubled in the last five years.
According to the Australian Seniors Series: Ageing in the Workforce 2021 report, one in five workers (20.7%) aged over 50 has encountered age discrimination in the workplace – twice as many compared to 2016 (9.6%). Just over 40% say they have felt patronised in the workplace because of their age.
Despite the prevalence of ageism, more than three quarters of Australians aged over 50 want to keep working indefinitely and almost 90% of retirees plan to re-enter the workforce. Finance was identified as the biggest reason, followed by missing their job, boredom and a lack of social connection.
Speaking at a recent virtual roundtable, attended by HRD, industry experts discussed the new findings, sharing common misconceptions and ways to address ageism in the workplace. Tai Mavins, social research expert and consulting partner at Mymavins, said the events of the past 18 months have made things even more difficult for older workers.
“Over one in two seniors feel that Covid has made it harder to get work, and close to one in five feel that recent events have impacted their retirement plans, so it’s bringing a lot of uncertainty into their working life,” Mavins said. “In response to this, we actually see that one in four seniors admit to trying to make themselves look younger in the workplace or when they’re applying for jobs. That includes things from dying their hair, wearing the latest fashion, getting the latest haircut and makeup styles.”
Older workers are also becoming increasingly proactive at upskilling to keep up with advancing industry trends, with many branching out into new career paths.
“We found that close to three in five seniors plan to or already have reskilled or sought further training to improve their prospects since turning 50,” Mavins said. “What’s probably most interesting about that is as many as half of those people who are looking to reskill have done that in new areas, so they’re really expanding their horizons and moving beyond past roles.”
The research shows that the appetite to work and to continue learning is there. Like many nations, Australia has an ageing population, and the rising cost of living means people are working till later in life. So how do HR leaders address the causes of age discrimination and foster a truly inclusive workplace?
Humphrey Armstrong, an organisational psychologist at Lifelong Learning, said much of the problem stems back to commonly held misconceptions, like older employees costing more, being more difficult to train, or being resistant to change.
“I think one of the fascinating things is that emotional intelligence, or emotional capabilities actually increase with age well into a person’s 70s,” he said. “In terms of resistance to change, I think if older people know why change is needed and how to change they are prepared to jump on board.”
Armstrong pointed out that twice as many start-ups are initiated by over 50s than people in their twenties. Clearly, there is a huge amount of value in the learned knowledge, intuition and life experience of an older worker. But for a workforce to be inclusive of all ages, ageism needs to be more widely talked about, Armstrong said.
“We hear a lot about gender diversity, especially over the last few months, but in fact, age diversity is often ignored. We’ve got to actually bring that in and really reinforce the issue,” Armstrong said. “Research studies show that diversity is an incredible advantage in organisational life, it increases profitability, creativity, enhances governance, and it also enables better problem solving.
“And as mentioned, emotional intelligence can increase with age so there’s this huge resource where older people are, in fact, very valuable and very skilled at handling tricky interpersonal problems and generally they are better able to cope with ambiguity.”
Lisa Sinclair, editor-in-chief at DARE Magazine, said she’d like to see more organisations introducing policies to support women going through menopause and acknowledge the pressures on the “sandwich generation” who may be supporting both elderly parents and older children. There are also simple measures to improve inclusivity during the recruitment process.
“I would love it if companies in general stopped advertising for unicorns, which are these mythical creatures that have 15 different boxes to tick,” she said. “I mean that’s hard enough for any age but I think it could be particularly confronting for the over 50s who might be put off for applying for jobs just because there’s one element they don’t meet.”
Still not convinced. There are skills older workers have that their younger counterparts may not possess. Older workers have wisdom. Wisdom cannot be learnt from books or virtual learning scenarios. It is acquired over time from life experience, knowledge, and tried and tested judgements. Valuable insights, meaningful contributions, and good decision making are some of the benefits.
Mentoring enhances training programs and represents a valuable and different dynamic for mentees. We have lost some of our formal and traditional structures with changing societal norms and, with that, real role models. Acting as role models based on values and life achievements, they can nurture younger workers and share general and professional knowledge, experience, and life lessons. Mentoring creates trusted relations, increases employee engagement and retention, provides inspiration, encouragement and helps diversity.
Patience and tolerance are not just needed but expected for all workplaces. Learnt patience comes with time and less of a need to prove yourself. Being comfortable in your skin brings confidence, more prevalent in mature workers. Having tolerance in accepting people’s views and differences positively impact the team environment, bringing increased inclusion, cooperation, and collaboration. Patience also leads to better self-regulation skills benefiting team dynamics.
We have all worked with those special, reliable employees who have seen it all before and know how to weather the latest storm. In our current times of increased uncertainty, rapid change and the collective anxiety brought on by COVID, it makes sense to employ stable, mature, wise individuals who can act as emotional anchors and help us navigate turbulent waters.
For the first time, Australia’s workforce includes five different generations. It opens up a learning opportunity and creates better business performance. As a final point, before you continue to dismiss ‘older workers’, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), older workers are those 45-65 years of age. Now, who is an older worker?
RMIT’s latest mature aged graduates are today celebrating the value of lifelong learning as they receive qualifications to work in the aged care and disability services sector.
The 31 graduates aged in their 50s, 60s and 70s were the first cohort to complete the Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing and Disability).
The 12-month course was developed to support unemployed mature workers over the age of 50 through accredited training and job placement in the aged care and disability services sector.
It’s one initiative as part of the Reach, Train and Employ Project led by the Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria in partnership with RMIT and Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand.
RMIT’s Future Social Service Institute (FSSI) Director, Micaela Cronin, said the course aimed to increase employment opportunities for older Australians in a vital sector, supporting older people and those with disabilities in the community.
“Opening doors and creating effective pathways for those in our community who face barriers to training and employment is vital to growing a diverse and highly skilled social service sector and is a core part of the work that we do,” she said.
RMIT’s Future Social Service Institute Director, Micaela Cronin says opening doors to training and employment in the social services sector is vital.
Graduate Sharyn Ciberlin, 53, has now found work as a personal carer, after being in and out of work since 2018.
After an initial career as a chef, that included working for the military and various hospitality venues, Sharyn had more recently been working at a school supporting teachers in the classroom and teaching kids to cook.
However she said it was doing voluntary work for Melton Council taking elderly to their appointments and then supporting a friend who had a stroke that made her realise she also had a flair and passion for personal care and supporting others in the community.
“This course and new career feels like a wonderful fit for me. The people I support, they value and appreciate me and I love to support them, especially as my life experience and knowledge adds to my contribution to the aged,” she said.
“Also being over 50, and having worked as a chef in the past, I was looking for a job that was less strenuous physically and one that suited my skills and qualities including compassion and empathy for others.”
Sharyn emphasised the importance of choices and opportunities to re-educate yourself as people get older.
“This program is really clever as it’s addressing two issues in our community: employing older workers and focusing on supporting members in our community including the aged and people with a disability,” she said.
“You do hear about homeless levels for people over 50 or that we can be slotted into the ‘too old’ category for some roles.
“It can be especially challenging for our generation of women who have had to care for our family, elderly and young and may have had time out of our careers to do this.
“It’s so important to keep ourselves re-educated and to fit in with the current work needs, especially if we’ve had to step out of work for a time.
Graduate Sharyn Cyberlin has embraced the opportunity to retrain and begin a new career in her 50s.
For Sharyn, learning new digital skills throughout the course was something she wholeheartedly embraced too, as COVID restrictions meant it was taught mostly online.
“I absolutely loved learning, including the technology aspects, and I enjoyed helping others in the course who weren’t so confident in learning the new skills or grasping the technology needed to complete the program,” she said.
And she is quick to point out the merits of education opportunities for all.
“My biggest passion is choice. I think everyone should have a choice about the paths they can take,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter where you are or what stage of life you’re in, people need to have their choices valued and heard.”
Having already secured casual work with two home service agencies, Sharyn is now looking forward to finding permanent work and using her skills to support others now she’s graduated.
“I always tell my clients, ‘I’m here to help and I am here for you’ and I like to ask them, ‘How can I help you?’ Even if it’s just to be a listening ear sometimes, I know this work is valuable.”
COTA Victoria CEO, Tina Hogarth-Clarke, said the inaugural program was a great success with graduates now working closely with COTA Victoria to look at job opportunities.
“The Victorian Aged and Disability sector is in desperate need of quality candidates and we have a group of very enthusiastic graduates who are ideal for these positions. It is a great outcome all round.”
The program was supported by the Try, Test and Learn Fund – an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Social Services.
Age discrimination is a recurring issue in the job recruitment market. Many workers over 50 are primed, qualified and looking for employment. Matt Higgins is from olderworkers.com.au, Australia’s only national job board connecting older job seekers with age-friendly employers.