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
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.
Experienced older Australians finding job opportunities are drying up.
Who is going to hire a woman in her 50s?
It’s a question Tracey Ward has been asking herself a lot lately.
The 56-year-old is a self-employed life coach for women, but has seen her income dry up due to the pandemic.
She’s surviving off JobKeeper payments, but when the subsidy is scrapped in March, Ms Ward is afraid she will “really struggle”.
She knows she could get some sort of work – “there are organisations like Bunnings who hire people of all ages”, she said – but she wants something different for herself and fears the lack of attention from the federal government on her age group could signal the end of her career.
While the government has focused on the high levels of youth unemployment borne out of the pandemic, middle-aged, mid-career workers say they have been forgotten.
The unemployment rate for Australians aged over 40 was 3.8 per cent in January 2020 and grew to 5.2 per cent in July before recovering slightly to 4.7 per cent by October.
Some of those stuck unemployed say they are dumbing down their resumes to appear less threatening to potential new employers; others, like Ms Ward, wish funding could be funnelled into upskilling rather than hiring incentives based on age.
‘If you’re 40-plus and a woman you just don’t get a new job’
Sheena Gulati was told many times in 2020 that she was “overqualified” for a role.
The 43-year-old lives in Sydney with her husband and two children.
Before the pandemic hit, she was working as a part-time contractor in accounting and finance.
Of all the reasons to be rejected from a job, being “too experienced” wasn’t something she expected to hear.
“They want someone who is young because I think they think overqualified people will ask more questions and tell them how to do things better,” Ms Gulati said.
She suspects her qualifications have little to do with it.
“It’s your age they’re talking about,” she said.
Ms Gulati felt the competition within the jobs market ramp up, and said she is surrounded by friends and family in their 40s who are struggling to secure work.
It’s become so tough she’s considering a career change.
“I have been thinking about it, but it would be a fresh start. It’s scary. I have been in this line of work for a really long time, my qualifications are in this so it will be hard starting afresh,” she said.
“If you’re 40-plus and a woman you just don’t get a new job.”
Her mortgage, other household bills and the expense of raising two children is beginning to bite and Ms Gulati says she’s frustrated the government appeared to forget about middle-aged Australians.
“Why does the government want to give more benefits to elderly people over 65 but not us? What do you do between 35 and 50? Where do you go? What do you want us to do?
“I think it’s unjust – your partiality is based on age. Why? I have no idea.”
Need a job? Learn to ask
Career practitioner Lois Keay-Smith has been coaching people looking for a new job for years, and primarily helps people aged 30 to 60.
She said, surprisingly, the pandemic appeared to be the last straw for people looking for a career change.
“It’s highlighted aspects of their work they don’t like. It’s given people some freedom to say, ‘I wasn’t happy anyway and with all these changes I want to go and do what I want to do’,” she said.
Ms Keay-Smith said older workers “definitely” faced challenges, like adapting to a new work environment where competition for jobs was high.
“I find some mature work-seekers fall back on what worked for them last time, but it doesn’t work because there are so many more eyeballs on job ads,” she said.
“But an advantage they have is they have good networks; they’ve been in the workforce and often the work I do is help them activate that network.”
Ms Keay-Smith says one of the best pieces of advice she has is: learn to ask.
“I call it the rise of the returnee – going back to a company you used to work for by tapping into those colleagues you used to work with before,” she said.
“There used to be a stigma around that – you never go back – but that’s changed and both of these things around people are more accepting that things change in organisations quite rapidly.”
Ms Keay-Smith also says she’s heard the ‘overqualified’ response quite a lot when it comes to mature workers.
“[The company’s] main concern is that you are using the job as an entry point,” she said.
“They feel you are not going to stay because it’s not fulfilling and you might get bored.”
Her advice for people who do want to scale down their role is to be honest.
“If you know you are going to get the overqualified response, you do have to address the elephant in the room and say why you are attracted to this role.
“It’s about positioning yourself as a stayer or someone who can contribute a lot in a short space of time.”
Ms Keay-Smith’s top career advice is:
Use your networks.
Get comfortable being on camera. Practise interviews on Zoom with a friend.
Don’t be afraid to go back to a company you used to work for.
Get up to speed with the latest interview techniques.
Older workers want to upskill
While Ms Ward believes an incentive to hire young people is great, she says helping people who are mid-career would have a greater benefit overall.
“Younger people have time to try things and fail and learn from it, but it becomes more scary when you’re older and have a mortgage to pay and have no back-up plan,” she said.
“You’re very conscious of your superannuation for retirement.
“I am very proud to be a woman in my 50s, but I know women who don’t let their hair go grey because if their company finds out how old they are they go in the redundancy pile.”
Just like Ms Gulati, Ms Ward has heard employers say they don’t want to hire qualified, older workers because they are afraid they will “make waves”.
She has friends who have pared back their resumes after being told they are “too experienced” for a role.
“It’s desperate and very real for many especially women; grey-haired men are classed as distinguished and experienced whereas grey-haired women aren’t. We are not revered for our wisdom.”
Ms Ward doesn’t just want to be hired, she wants to upskill to remain relevant in the ever-digitising workplace.
“Everything is going online and into a digital space so fast and some older people are being left behind because there’s no time or money to reskill,” she said.
“I have just spent the past hour trying to work out how I record myself whilst I’m recording a presentation on the Mac, so there’s endless [challenges].”
Sometimes she laughs it off. Other times it’s overwhelming.
Ms Ward said an upskilling program where companies provide pro-bono work for older people to learn digital skills would go a long way, and be much more helpful than just being hired by a company because there’s a monetary incentive.
“I’m not talking about someone from Centrelink showing me how to do it for half an hour on video. I’m talking about someone who is at the head of their game getting a tax incentive to help me step up my business,” she said.
“And then I could employ people so it could be a win if other companies were encouraged to help people like me because I don’t have the funds to do it myself.
“I don’t want a free handbag. I want my business to be really successful. I’d happily be the pilot for it.”
Have you been rejected for a job because you are ‘too qualified’? Does the system discriminate against older Australians?
Youth employment subsidy may cause significant collateral damage.
Older workers are already losing their jobs as a result of the federal government’s JobMaker initiative, according to Ian Yates, chief executive of the Council on the Ageing (COTA).
“We are very worried,” he said. “Already we’ve seen reports of older workers being laid off so they can be replaced with JobMaker workers.”
Mr Yates said COTA, an advocate for the rights of older Australians, had heard from “several” mature-aged workers being given notice as their bosses looked to take advantage of the JobMaker subsidy, introduced during the recent federal budget to counter youth unemployment.
JobMaker aims to create 450,000 jobs for young people, who’ve been four times more likely to lose their jobs or have their hours cut during the coronavirus pandemic. It offers $200 a week for businesses to hire workers under the age of 30, who are currently on JobSeeker, receiving a Youth Allowance or the Parenting Payment for at least 20 hours per week. The subsidy is $100 a week for workers aged 30 to 35. All businesses, except for the major banks, can access the scheme, which will be available for up to a year.
However, the Coalition claim that the subsidy would create 450,000 jobs has been challenged by Treasury, which asserts that just 45,000 “genuinely additional” jobs would be created.
The Guardian reports: “Treasury officials revealed the conservative estimated benefit of the JobMaker hiring credit on Monday, ahead of a snap inquiry likely to spark calls to legislate more safeguards to the program.”
When the subsidy was proposed, ACTU Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said JobMaker had many flaws that “hadn’t been thought through”.
Ms O’Neill was concerned that older workers would be replaced by several younger ones.
“You’ve increased overall headcount and payroll, but replaced older workers with younger ones,” she told The New Daily.
“The employer will get double the wage subsidy if they employ two workers for 20 hours a week than if it was one for 40 hours. There’s no requirement for secure jobs or full-time jobs. They could hire them for a short period and replace them with another worker.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt wanted to see details of the scheme, concerned it might worsen the unemployment crisis. And Labor leader Anthony Albanese was concerned 928,000 jobless people aged over 35 would be disadvantaged.
Mr Yates sought a subsidy for older workers.
“Many mature-aged workers who are out of work due to the pandemic are facing disastrous personal circumstances. The Liquid Assets Waiting Period means they must spend their savings before they can get help: savings they will need in retirement,” Mr Yates told senior.com.au.
“Australia needs urgent action, or we’ll push a huge group, mostly women, into poverty in old age.”
Mr Yates supported the scheme but said mature and older workers were “equally vulnerable”.
He said people aged 18 to 24 and over-55s were most in need, and older people took twice as long to get a job.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that the headcount and payroll of businesses needed to be higher after they hired people via JobMaker. He said this “integrity test” would ensure older workers were not exploited.
However, there is already rampant age discrimination in employment, said Professor Marian Baird, who heads work and organisational studies at the University of Sydney.
Prof. Baird told the ABC that JobMaker provided an incentive for employers to “cherry-pick people of a certain age”.
She feared it could encourage employers to “abandon older people in the labour market”.
“So, you could substitute someone who is 40 with someone who is 22.”
Prof. Baird said it was “a recipe for casualisation” because employers were only required to hire people for an average of 20 hours a week over a quarter to qualify for the subsidy.
“Someone could work 30 or 40 hours a week, none the next,” she said. “There’s no indication jobs have to be permanent or ongoing.”
Professor Andrew Stewart, an employment law specialist at the University of Adelaide, said the scheme would be difficult to police.
Anglicare Australia’s annual Jobs Availability Snapshot found that disadvantaged jobseekers, including older workers, were competing with more people for fewer jobs.
This year, eight jobseekers are competing for each entry-level job. If all jobseekers are included, there are 106 jobseekers for each entry-level job.
There are also 1.63 million under-employed Australians who could also be competing for these jobs.
“If we’re serious about helping people, we need to create jobs that match their skills – instead of forcing them to compete for jobs that just aren’t there,” said Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers.
Have you experienced ageism in the workforce? Do you think JobMaker will disadvantage older workers?
Older unemployed and underemployed workers struggling to find roles due to ageism in recruiting
Answer this question: How easy is it for you to strike up a good conversation with your younger colleagues in the office kitchen?
Older job applicants told they wouldn’t be a “cultural fit” for the role
Young people are being actively preferenced for tech-heavy roles
Recruiter says there is a need for older Australians to work on their job skills, but calls for workplace age diversity targets
It may seem like a strange question, but that’s a benchmark some companies are using to decide who to hire, one Sydney-based recruiter tells us, and the assumption is that older Australians won’t know what to say to their younger colleagues.
When PM spoke to 44-year-old John Allie last month his confidence had begun to take a hit because after more than 100 job applications, and 30 final round interviews, the feedback was always the same.
“You interviewed well, they really liked you, but they didn’t feel you were a cultural fit for the role,” Mr Allie said.
“I mean what does that even mean?”
Mr Allie feared it was a bit of a catch-all comment to imply he wouldn’t get along with his younger co-workers.
So, PM asked those involved in the hiring process if Mr Allie’s fears were well founded.
“The candidate you were talking about saying it’s used as a bit of a catch-all is true,” Mark Smith, the group managing director of recruitment firm people2people, said.
He shared his own example of a middle-aged candidate being passed over for not being the right cultural fit in a call centre.
“We had a more mature guy that went in for the job,” he said.
“That’s the way the client described it to us and that’s how we had to pass it onto him.”
In this example, the company went with a younger candidate.
“The reality is that they asked him how are you going to deal with this particularly stressful job with the inbound calls,” Mr Smith explained.
“He said, ‘well I would engage in some banter in the kitchen with my colleagues’.
“That’s when the [company] turned to us and said, ‘you know what, he’s probably not going to be able to engage in the banter in the kitchen with his colleagues because he really won’t have too much in common with them to talk about.
“So they went with another candidate who happened to be younger.”
Young favoured for tech-heavy roles
But it’s not just navigating office banter that’s tripping up older Australian job candidates, said Kathryn Macmillan, the managing director of 923 Recruitment.
Her team places white-collar workers in finance, administration, sales, marketing and technical roles, from entry level to senior management.
She told PM that, for many admin and tech-heavy roles, companies are actively preferencing younger candidates.
“Perfect example of that is Single Touch Payroll,” she said.
“People in accounts need to be able to navigate a huge amount of software: MyGov ID, Single Touch Payroll, and it’s really quite complex.
“So it’s that ability to be proficient in that technological use.”
PM asked Ms Macmillan if she was seeing a preference from companies for younger people to take on those roles as opposed to older people who perhaps aren’t “digital natives”.
“So for people who are older it’s very important that they address that perception.”
Figures from the partly government-funded Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research show 18 per cent of workers aged 55-64 believe their organisation discriminates on the basis of age in recruitment and selection.
This preference for younger candidates is starting to show up in the number of older Australians being forced onto government assistance programs.
Australians aged between 45 and 65 now make up about half of all unemployment support recipients, with more than 330,000 on the welfare payment as of September last year.
‘Pick a footy team to follow’
Recruiter Mark Smith said there was definitely a need for older Australians to work on their job skills, but also called on the Government to establish workplace age diversity targets to combat the problem.
Age discrimination commissioner Kay Patterson told PM a large number of companies were breaching the law by discriminating on the basis of age.
PM asked Dr Patterson if the Government had any plans to set an age diversity target, at least for the public sector.
“I don’t know if setting targets is the way to go about it,” she said.
“My team here have been working on training programs for the NSW State Government to encourage their recruiters to look towards a multi-generational workforce and making sure there’s diversity — not only in terms of gender — but in terms of age as well.
“I think it’s about educating employers that they benefit from having a range of age groups.”
In the meantime, Mark Smith’s advice for underutilised or unemployed older Australians is to be specific when asking for feedback from recruiters.
“Ask the recruiter ‘what particular competencies was I lacking?'” he said.
“‘How would you describe the culture?’ and get them to describe it back to him.”
Oh, and pick a footy team to follow … seriously.
“What that means is that if you’re going to work in an environment where you’ve got a lot of people who are interested in AFL, if you’ve moved to Melbourne, you’ve got to pick up a team.”
Older Australians struggling to make ends meet or looking to boost their quality of life are flooding the national jobs market in record numbers but many are finding their skills and experience unwanted by prospective employers.
Special research into the changing nature of the jobs market reveals people over the age of 65 are the single fastest growing age group securing work, up by 11 per cent over the past 12 months alone.
At the same time, the general workforce has lifted by 3 per cent.
There are now a record 610,000 people 65 or older holding down part or full time work.
But despite the large increase, many older Australians are finding it very difficult to get work with a 39 per cent jump in the number of unemployed over 65s looking to tie down a full time job.
Unemployment across 65-year-olds looking for any type of work has jumped by almost 28 per cent. Across the general population it fell by a full percentage point over the past year.
West Australian workplace diversity expert Conrad Liveris said there were a range of issues that were seeing so many older Australians enter the workforce and then struggle to get the job they wanted.
He said many were returning to work to maintain a decent quality of life, discovering they did not have enough cash stored away for retirement.
This was a generation that did not have compulsory superannuation through their entire working lives and women in particular are at risk of reaching their mid-60s without a large nest egg to see them through retirement.
Mr Liveris said there was also evidence of early retirees who have discovered they missed work and, with demand relatively strong across the jobs market, have gone back for employment
“The 65-plus age group is caught between a transition to a new retirement system, a changing labour market and an economy which still values their skills,” he said.
“And also, they’re not dying. Their health is pretty damn good. They are not going anywhere.”
The law is also keeping them in work longer. Last month the age at which a person can access the pension was increased to 66 from 65.5 years.
Older Australians aren’t just flooding into the workforce. They’re also taking on more than one job.
Separate figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that between 2011-12 and 2016-17 the proportion of people holding down more than one job grew by 14 per cent.
But among those over the age of 60, the increase was 18 per cent.
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*To participate you must be an Australian citizen or permanent resident aged 45 to 70 years old, who is either:
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The Skills Checkpoint program is a joint initiative between the Department of Education and Training, and the Department of Jobs and Small Business.
Skills Checkpoint is available through VERTO in NSW, VIC and the ACT.
In the space of five years, Liz Clifford has lost her husband to cancer, her office job and now her home.
At the age of 60 she finds herself struggling to get by on Newstart unemployment benefits.
“Very disappointed with life,” she told 7.30.
“It wasn’t his fault that he got sick and died, but after losing my job I don’t have the income now to support living here — rates to pay and bills to pay.
“I don’t like to say it’s destroyed my life, but it’s certainly torn it apart.”
Ms Clifford is part of a worrying trend. The number of people aged 55-64 on Newstart has risen by more than 55,000 in less than five years.
“It’s been very difficult. It makes you feel quite worthless actually, like you’ve got no purpose in life,” she said.
“I feel a little bit insulted and I feel like I’ve been punished for being unemployed.”
She lives on about $50 a day and has been forced to sell her and her late husband’s dream home because she can no longer keep up with repayments.
‘I’ve got a lot to offer’
Newstart has not increased in real terms for more than two decades, and the Federal Government is resisting calls to lift the payment.
“Electricity’s not cheap, water rates and house rates aren’t cheap,” Ms Clifford said.
“I get my Centrelink payment every fortnight and that just goes straight onto my credit card.
“Because I’ve used the redraw facility on [the mortgage], it’s gone up but I’ve tried to be very careful with that.”
Ms Clifford currently works part-time at a Gold Coast boarding kennel but is planning a move to Ipswich to find a cheaper home and full-time office work.
“I think people probably want someone who’s 35, 40 or something like that or maybe even younger.
“I know I’ve got a lot to offer, I’ve got a lot of skills and I’ve worked for a long time and I’m quite computer literate, but I think people just think, ‘She’ll be wanting to retire in a couple of years’ time, so it’s not worth taking her on’.”
More programs needed for mature age workers
Labour market analyst Professor John Spoehr said the sharp rise in the number of over-55s on Newstart was due to a downturn in traditional industries and a crackdown on eligibility for disability support payments.
“Despite the Australian unemployment rate being relatively low, that masks some other problems in the labour market,” he told 7.30.
“In particular, the difficult circumstances that mature-age workers face, particularly because of the decline in mining and manufacturing.
“People who were skilled in those sectors had to find jobs in very, very different areas of the labour market, predominantly in the services sector where they weren’t well skilled.”
Professor Spoehr said a poor education was hurting some workers in the modern employment landscape.
“Typically, mature-age workers, baby boomers in particular, often require more support than a lot of other workers in the labour market that are struggling,” he said.
“I think there’s a need for an expansion of mature-age employment programs in Australia to support mature age workers through these difficult transitions.”
Living on $40 a day
Phillip Cacciola, 61, has a lifetime of experience on the factory floor.
“My first job [was] cabinet maker, then I got a job at Holden, biscuit factory, steel fabrication,” he told 7.30.
“Then I got a job at Copperpot pate and dip factory. I was there for 10 years.”
He is now unemployed and believes his reading and writing skills and age are stopping him from finding work.
“Everything is on the computer,” he said.
“When you put a job application in you’ve got to put it in the computer. I can’t do that. Simple as that, I just can’t do that.
“If they put me on a forklift and show me what to do I’d probably pick it up after a while. You’ve got to go through the paperwork and safety and stuff.
“I know the safety stuff but you still got to write it down, that’s my biggest problem.”
Mr Cacciola said he had personally sought out courses to improve his reading and writing skills but wanted the Government to help more in this area as well as increase the Newstart payment.
He lives on about $40 a day.
“Sometimes I get cranky when I hear things about the politicians,” he said.
“They’ve got no problems paying the electric bills, they’ve got no problems paying anything.
“If they want to buy something they can get money out of the bank and buy it. I can’t do that.”
People are living longer, and organizations are shifting their attitudes toward older workers as a result. Organizations that can turn advancing worker age into an asset could gain a competitive advantage.
Longer lives, older workforces
Rising life expectancies and an aging global workforce present organizations with unprecedented challenges and untapped opportunities. Companies that plan, design, and experiment with workforce strategies, workplace policies, and management approaches for longer working lives can reap a longevity dividend. Those that lag behind face potential liability concerns and skill gaps. Creating ways for people to have meaningful, productive multi-stage and multidimensional careers is a major opportunity to engage workers across generations.
One of modern science’s greatest achievements is longevity: the unprecedented length of human lives today. Average global life expectancy has rocketed from 53 years in 1960 to 72 years in 2015—and it is still climbing,1 with life expectancy projected to grow by 1.5 years per decade.2 Longevity, combined with falling birth rates, is dramatically increasing the share of older people in populations worldwide.3 Looking ahead, the number of retirees per worker globally is expected to decline from 8:1 today to 4:1 in 2050.4
These demographic facts have profound implications for individuals, organizations, and society. In this era of longevity, an individual’s career can last far longer, spanning generations of technologies and businesses. Companies can employ people into their 60s, 70s, and beyond as the pool of traditional “working-age” (20- to 54-year-old) adults shrinks. For their part, many individuals find the need—financially and/or emotionally—to stay in the workforce past “traditional” retirement age.
In our 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 29 percent of the respondents rated longevity as a very important issue, and another 40 percent rated it as important. Respondents in Japan in particular, whose population is rapidly aging, were especially concerned about the issue, with 41 percent saying that it is very important.
The looming impacts of global aging
Population aging poses a workforce dilemma for both economies and organizations. Thirteen countries are expected to have “super-aged” populations—where more than one in five people is 65 or older—by 2020, up from just three in 2014.5 These include major economies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France, and South Korea. China’s 65-and-older population is projected to more than triple from approximately 100 million in 2005 to over 329 million in 2050.6 In fact, analysts have estimated that 60 percent of the world’s population over 65 will live in Asia by 2030.7
Compounding the challenge, almost all developed economies now have birth rates below the replacement rate of 2.1.8 This means that companies in these countries must either attract workers from abroad or tap into the maturing workforce. For a view of the challenges ahead, one needs look no further than Japan—the world’s oldest country—where a shortage of roughly 1 million employees in 2015 and 2016 is estimated to cost nearly $90 billion.9
New research is being conducted to help organizations shape their talent and business strategies for an era of longevity. The MIT AgeLab, for example, works with businesses, government, and other stakeholders to develop solutions and policies aimed at engaging the elderly population. The AgeLab uses consumer-centered thinking to understand the challenges and opportunities of longevity in order to catalyze innovation across business markets.10
Older talent as a competitive advantage
As talent markets grow more competitive, organizations often find it valuable to keep older workers on the job rather than replace them with younger ones. Our research shows that older workers represent a largely untapped opportunity: Only 18 percent of this year’s respondents said that age is viewed as an advantage in their organization. But leading companies are beginning to focus on this talent pool as a competitive advantage.
The older labor pool represents a proven, committed, and diverse set of workers. More than 80 percent of US employers believe that workers aged 50 and more are “a valuable resource for training and mentoring,” “an important source of institutional knowledge,” and offer “more knowledge, wisdom, and life experience.”11 The UK government incentivizes employers to retain, retrain, and recruit older workers, and it is committed to policies that support lifetime learning and training and decrease loneliness and social isolation.12
Proactive organizations are tapping into the older talent pool by extending their career models, creating new development paths, and inventing roles to accommodate workers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. This year, 16 percent of the respondents we surveyed for this report say their companies are creating special roles for older workers, and 20 percent are partnering with older workers to develop new career models. Organizations could find great value in older workers’ ability to serve as mentors, coaches, or experts. Taking on these kinds of roles allows older workers to “pass the baton” to younger generations, while making room for ambitious younger workers.
Many companies are also experimenting with workplace changes to help older employees remain in the workforce. For instance, BMW increased productivity on an assembly line staffed with older workers by 7 percent in just three months through simple changes such as providing cushioned floors and adjustable work benches.13 Home Depot and other organizations are engaging older workers with flexible scheduling options and part-time positions.14 Further, as many as one-third of retirees are willing to work part-time, offering opportunities to leverage this group on a contingent or gig basis.15
Reskilling also plays a role in successful strategies to utilize older talent. One global telecommunications provider encourages senior workers to reinvent themselves and invests in programs to help them acquire new technical skills.16 Software engineers who have built careers on older technologies such as COBOL or C++ can use this experience to learn mobile computing, AI, and other technologies at a very rapid rate.
An interesting and little-known fact, moreover, is that older people are among the most entrepreneurial of workers across age groups. Between 1996 and 2014, the percentage of older workers (aged 55–64) starting new ventures increased—exceeding (by 68 percent) the rate of entrepreneurship among millennial entrepreneurs (aged 20–34), which actually decreased during the same period.17
The new challenges of an aging workforce
The transition toward older talent can present challenges. Older workers may have specialized workplace needs and can attract resentment from younger workers, and they often enjoy higher salaries because of their tenure. Organizations looking to assimilate an older worker population may face the need to design new wage policies, create more flexible rewards programs, and train young leaders to manage people across generations (including team members who may be their parents’ age).
Pensions are another area where longevity impacts organizations. The World Economic Forum estimates that a $70 trillion global retirement savings gap exists today, highlighting the sharp difference between retirement needs and actual retirement income. Moreover, this gap is projected to grow to $400 trillion by 2050.18 Helping older adults to work longer and manage their retirement savings will be a vital need for companies in order to avoid the negative productivity effects of financial stress.
Our Global Human Capital Trends research shows that many organizations are unprepared to deal with the aging of global workforces. Nearly half of the respondents we surveyed (49 percent) reported that their organizations have done nothing to help older workers find new careers as they age. Rather than seeing opportunity, 20 percent of respondents view older workers as a competitive disadvantage, and in countries such as Singapore, the Netherlands, and Russia, this percentage is far higher. In fact, 15 percent of respondents believed that older employees are “an impediment to rising talent” by getting in the way of up-and-coming younger workers.
Are older workers an advantage or a disadvantage?
Perceptions of workers over 55 years old spanned both extremes, though these perceptions varied significantly by country.
Based on these findings and our anecdotal observations, we believe there may be a significant hidden problem of age bias in the workforce today. Left unaddressed, perceptions that a company’s culture and employment practices suffer from age bias could damage its brand and social capital.
Age discrimination is already becoming a mainstream diversity issue and liability concern. More than 21,000 age discrimination complaints were filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016.19 The problem is particularly acute in Silicon Valley’s technology industry, where older software engineers are often pushed to take lower-paying jobs or look for work outside Silicon Valley because of the emphasis on the “youth culture.”20
The demographic math is undeniable: As national populations age, challenges related to engaging and managing the older workforce will intensify. Companies that ignore or resist them may not only incur reputational damage and possible liabilities, but also risk falling behind those organizations that succeed in turning longevity into a competitive advantage.
The bottom line
Staying competitive in a world of unprecedented longevity demands that organizations adopt new strategies to engage with older talent. Traditional assumptions—that learning ends in one’s 20s, career progression ends in the 40s, and work ends in the 60s—are no longer accurate or sustainable. Rethinking workforce strategies across multiple generations to account for longer lives will require open minds and fresh approaches.
What role does the C-suite play in capitalizing on