Posts Tagged “mature age workers”

May 31st, 2016

Just a few years ago, when unemployment hovered at 10%, employers had their pick of job candidates. Getting hired was tough. But now, with unemployment at 5%, it’s a candidates market.

That was just one piece of welcome news I heard last week while attending Indeed Interactive in Austin, Texas, an annual gathering of recruiting leaders and members of the media, eager to learn about the forces shaping the rapidly evolving labor market.

Since Indeed.com is the world’s No. 1 job site and the leading source of external online hires, it has a goldmine of job-related data. Combine that with Indeed’s proprietary research and you get a fascinating assessment of what’s happening in the job market and what you can likely expect in the near future.

2 Takeaways From a Global Labor Market Report

First, the big picture. At the conference, I picked up a copy of Indeed’s Labor Market Outlook 2016, which looked at 12 countries, and came away with two key takeaways: 1) There is a growing disparity between the highest and lowest wage earners due to the growing specialization of the labor force and 2) Tech jobs are hot and increasingly challenging to fill.

“Lots of jobs are disappearing as a result of technology and automation. Up to 50% of U.S. jobs may be at risk due to automation,” Tara Sinclair, Indeed’s chief economist, said at the conference. “But at the same time we see tons of jobs disappearing, millions more are appearing.” Two examples of emerging industries, according to Sinclair: fitness wearables and virtual learning. Along with tech, health care is the “massive elephant in the job creation space,” Sinclair noted.

Sinclair emphasized that job seekers need to adapt to the constantly changing landscape. That means they need to look for ways to apply their skills in fields other than the ones they’ve been in and be open to picking up new skills. She cited the growth of short-term coding schools as one way job hunters can quickly improve their marketability.

3 Bright Spots for 50+ Job Seekers and Workers

Sinclair urged the audience of recruiters to adapt as well. I found three of her recommendations to them especially encouraging for job seekers and workers who are 50+:

1. Offer more flexible work opportunities One way to attract and retain talented boomers, Sinclair said, is allowing them to work flexible hours (including part-time) and remotely. Interest in flexible work arrangements is on the rise. At Indeed, searches for them rose 42% from 2013 to 2015.

Incidentally, contrary to popular belief that part-time and remote jobs tend to be low paying, low skill work, over half of the top 50 keywords associated with searches for flexible work are related to high-skill jobs — many of them in the hard-to-fill tech and health care fields.

2. Consider job candidates without college degrees Sinclair admitted that as a college professor (she teaches at George Washington University), this was a tough recommendation to swallow. But she warned employers that it’s unlikely the pool of college-educated candidates will be large enough to fill job openings in the years ahead.

So if you’re looking for work but lack a college degree, you may soon have a better chance getting an employer’s interest.

3. Find ways to engage and retain older workers Referring to the coming “Baby Boomer Bomb” (aka “the brain drain” due to massive numbers of boomers who’ll retire), Sinclair told the audience: “You are facing a looming shortage of talent, particularly as the baby boomers retire. By 2020, workers age 55+ will likely account for 25% of the labor force. If you think of all those people leaving the work force, it’s likely to have all sorts of economic repercussions. But if you can find ways to engage the older workers and transfer their knowledge to the young, that’s how you can help increase the economic pie in new ways.”

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Nancy Collamer, Contributor

Source: Forbes

Australians approaching retirement age are braced for declining living standards under a system in which the rich have done better from superannuation rules, leaving the rest with insufficient savings or languishing on inadequate age pensions, a survey has found.

Many now back “root and branch” reform to address the problem, including calculating the family home in the age pension asset test and reducing the generous tax concessions for superannuation contributions by the well-off.

As the Turnbull government prepares to unveil its first budget, a survey of over 4000 Australians aged between 50 and 70 found this critical group of voters is profoundly nervous about the future, unconvinced about financial security and more inclined to reform than previously thought.

The online survey, conducted by the YourLifeChoices website, received 4004 responses to its 21-point questionnaire, conducted in the shadow of the politically pivotal 2016 federal budget to be tabled on May 3.

The results suggest the nation’s 5.5 million Baby Boomers are not the fixed conservative bloc that is sometimes assumed, and that worsening financial circumstances mean many would back policy options previously ruled out.

Among the findings is that 60 per cent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that a family home, if valued above $2.5 million, should not be excluded from the pension eligibility assets test.

“Perhaps the most surprising result in the survey, and contrary to expectation, is that the family home is no longer considered sacrosanct when it comes to the age pension assets test,” said publisher Kaye Fallick.

There is also support for changes to superannuation rules, suggesting super is not the political kryptonite it had been, as Boomers worry about the system’s financial sustainability and the need to protect fairness.

While many want a moratorium on changes, two-thirds of respondents believe reform of the superannuation system is required to wind back generous tax concessions, because they provide a disproportionate advantage to high income earners who are able to channel significant amounts of pre-tax income into their super accounts at a greatly discounted rate – thus costing the budget billions of dollars.

“Older Australians are not averse to change nor overly protective of all retirement assets and tax advantages, as much current ‘generational warfare’ hype might lead us to believe,” Ms Fallick said.

Sixty-seven per cent described changing the concessional rules on the accumulation phase of superannuation as something with which they either agreed or strongly agreed. Just 15 per cent classified the issue as not very important to them or not important at all.

The survey result suggests Labor is on to a winner with these voters with its policy of doubling from 15 per cent to 30 per cent the rate at which super contributions are taxed for those earning more than $250,000 a year. Currently the 30 per cent rate kicks in on contributions for those earning above $300,000.

Fairfax Media has reported that the government was considering going further than Labor in its pre-election budget by reducing the threshhold for the 30 per cent to $180,000, but that plan looks to have been dumped in favour of the $250,000 threshhold.

Underpinning the survey is a strong concern about the adequacy of the retirement system generally, with 82 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing that the “root and branch” review is necessary.

By contrast, last year’s budget decision to continue pushing out the pension eligibility age from a projected 67 in 2023 to 70 by 2030 attracted strong opposition at 68 per cent.

But while Labor was onside with older voters on more heavily taxing super contributions for the well-off, its proposal to tax super earnings at a concessional rate for earnings above $75,000 in a year was not favoured – despite its negligible impact on all but the wealthiest superannuants.

Sixty-eight per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed with taxing earnings at all.

With negative gearing set to be centre stage in the election contest, respondents were locked at 41-41 on Labor’s policy of limiting the tax concession to apply solely to newly constructed homes.

Source: The Age

David Kazachov claims he has experienced ageism as a job seeker.David Kazachov claims he has experienced ageism as a job seeker. Photo: Nick Moir

After hitting the age of 45, David Kazachov started having trouble getting work.

“It is even worse at the age of 50,” he says.

When we say baby boomers are not good with technology and Generation Y don’t have enough experience, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Associate Professor Leanne Cutcher

Despite extensive experience in the finance and IT industry, Mr Kazachov was surprised to be asked if he had a laptop after making it to the final stage of a recent job interview.

Robert De Niro showed old dogs sometimes have the best tricks in <i>The Intern</i>.Robert De Niro showed old dogs sometimes have the best tricks in The Intern.

Well, of course he did, but there seemed to be an assumption behind the question that he was too old to be savvy with computer technology.

But as it turns out, ageism in the workforce is built on a faulty premise, according to leading Australian researchers of intergenerational employment.

Associate Professor Leanne Cutcher from the University of Sydney Business School is about to publish a new study that has found that contrary to stereotypes and assumptions, the most innovative companies are the ones where the age of employees does not matter.

One health engineering company that had a young chief executive officer appointing 65-year-old workers to new roles leading projects was among companies the researchers found to be the most innovative.

The multinational company, Siemens Healthcare, recognised that people had valuable experience to offer at all stages of their career.

Michael Shaw, the company’s chief executive, said Siemens “takes the best people for the job”.

“Personally, for me it’s not important if the person is in their 20s or in their 60s, I am simply looking for the best minds with the best attitude”, Mr Shaw said.

Associate Professor Cutcher said the company had recognised that the idea that younger people lack experience and older people have too much of it “is a nonsense” and “stifles” the exchange of innovative ideas.

“Where age doesn’t matter, there is more innovation,” Associate Professor Cutcher says.

“When we say baby boomers are not good with technology and Generation Y don’t have enough experience, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Because people who have good ideas then don’t share them because they have been told they are too old.

“But you are just going to replicate the same ideas where you start labelling people as either too old or too young for a role. Where that is happening, it is stifling knowledge exchange.”

Associate Professor Cutcher said younger workers were positive about learning from older colleagues.

“We have this false idea that only young people can innovate and our research has found it has really big implications for the effectiveness of the organisations.”

“While there is robust evidence that older people can be part of a sustainable solution to job market challenges, existing and inaccurate perceptions of the Baby Boomer generation detract from the value of employing the over-50 population.”

Another new study to be released on Thursday by the Australian Seniors Insurance Agency reveals that age discrimination in the workplace is rife.

It found that close to half the Baby Boomer respondents claimed they have been turned down for a job since they turned 40.

The agency’s spokesman, Simon Hovell, said the study of 1200 people across Australia found three in five people over 50 said that they faced substantial obstacles in attempts to find a job.

More than two in five respondents said they felt stuck in rut because they felt a career change, opportunities or promotions were limited.

Baby Boomers said it took longer than six months to find a new job when making a career move. One in six said it took them five years or more to find a job.

Mr Hovell said Generation Y was costing up to $2.8 billion more than Baby Boomers a year to the Australian economy.

“Baby Boomers typically take three days sick leave on average per year, which doubles for Gen Y’s at an average of six days,” Mr Hovell said.

The research also found that more than three quarters of Baby Boomers adapt well to technological innovations, and 73 percent are actively seeking training opportunities.

“The findings point to what many organisations, academics and economists have known all along – Baby Boomers are a real asset to the workplace,” said Mr Hovell.

Source: SMH.com.au

A new report has found that older Australians and casual workers of all ages have a higher likelihood of being laid-off, and struggling to find new jobs.

The report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) also found that a significant group face a decline in job quality, often moving from permanent to casual jobs. One in three people earn less than what they used to.

Most of the laid-off workers have limited access to re-employment support and only a moderate number receive “early and more intensive employment services through structural adjustment programmes”.

The report released recommendations for the federal government to help vulnerable workers find good jobs quickly by:

  • moving away from the current sectoral approach to special assistance programs in case of mass layoffs towards an approach covering all sectors of the economy, with the intensity of intervention varying according to the workers’ needs
  • introducing pilot schemes in a few areas to test the delivery by job active providers of intensive employment services adapted to the needs of laid-off workers
  • expanding the training component in programs for laid-off workers and making use of skills assessment and individual training counselling to target training more effectively
  • strengthening employers’ responsibilities for workers they are laying off by instituting a longer notice period in case of mass layoff, and ensuring that notification to Centrelink is enforced so that authorities can respond more quickly
  • considering the introduction of a mechanism to publicly support firms putting workers on short hours, for example through publicly-funded training places or temporary subsidies to prevent excessive dismissals during cyclical downturns.

The document also reported that 2.3 per cent of Australian workers with at least one year of employment are laid-off each year because of downsizing or closures.

However, it noted that due to Australia’s flexible labour market, 70 per cent of unemployed workers found a new job within a year, and 80 per cent within two years.

Source:  Pro Bono Australia

Anne Shaw* and her husband love going on cruises, finding ocean travel to be the perfect holiday. But there’s another benefit for the grandmother of four: “It’s a way of escaping without having to say no to requests to look after grandchildren,” she admits.

Shaw isn’t alone: as much as they adore their grandkids, many of today’s nannas and grandmas feel that looking after grandchildren encroaches on their lives or is physically exhausting. Yet most of these women aren’t telling their grown-up offspring how they really feel.

Looking after the grandchildren can be a fraught issue; a complex web spun from conflicting emotions including love, guilt, joy, fear and obligation.

And the reality of doing it regularly – that it’s hardly all bliss and contentment – is such a taboo subject that all the grandmothers interviewed for this article asked not to have their identities revealed.

Baby boomer grandmothers know their Gen X sons and daughters are under significant financial strain. Dual-income families, demanding jobs, expensive childcare and the high cost of living mean mums and dads are turning to their own parents to help out with their kids while they work.

Grandparents provide childcare for almost one-third of children of working parents, according to 2015 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“In Australia, grandparents are the largest source of informal childcare after parents … Many households could not function without the unpaid input of grandparents,” write Barbara Pocock, Natalie Skinner and Philippa Williams in their 2012 book, Time Bomb: Work, Rest and Play in Australia Today.

This is no secret. What’s less well known is how these grandparents feel about and respond to requests for care – especially grandmothers, who usually take the lead in the grandparenting arena (research shows that even when grandfathers and grandmothers provide care together, grandmothers are more likely to take on routine or repetitive tasks such as bathing and feeding).

Janet Gibson*, a grandmother of 10, is frank: “When my first grandchildren were born, it was a pleasure to look after them. It never felt stressful.” But that was more than 20 years ago. Now in her 70s and suffering from arthritis, caring for the grandchildren is very different.

“I love the children but I’m physically unable to do what I used to do,” Gibson says, referring to the fact that it’s painful for her to pick up her baby granddaughter. Despite the difficulty, Gibson and her husband regularly look after the baby so their daughter can work. They’ve never told their daughter the extent of Gibson’s health issues.

Why not?

“Because I feel it would be unfair,” Gibson sighs, referring to the fact that she was very involved in caring for her older grandchildren and wants to treat her children equally.

This desire to help each of their children equally was mentioned by other grandmothers. Although understandable, it complicates the grandparenting experience, especially in large families, because more grandkids means more time and energy from grandparents who are only getting older.

Anne Shaw agrees – over the years her feelings towards grandparenting have changed. “I was so looking forward to becoming a grandparent,” she says. Before her first grandchild was born, Shaw reduced her paid employment from full-time to four days a week.

“I couldn’t give my kids money, so looking after my granddaughter was my way of helping out,” she says.
But 11 years and four grandchildren later, Shaw notices that she gets tired more easily and doesn’t have the patience that she used to. Still, she never says no to requests to look after her grandchildren because she “absolutely loves” seeing them. “I don’t admit it when I’m tired,” she says. “I just get on with it and do what needs to be done.” Now retired, this grandmother says she can simply catch up on sleep if she needs to after the kids leave.

But not all grandparents have this luxury: many juggle care of grandchildren with paid work, leaving them with little downtime.

The number of older women in the Australian workforce has significantly increased over the past few decades.
In the early 1980s, just 10 per cent of Australian women aged 60 to 64 were in paid employment, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. By 2009-2010, their presence had quadrupled to 41 per cent. (There has also been a small increase in the workforce participation of women aged 65 and over during that same period, from 3 to 7 per cent.)

Jill Westbrook*, in her mid-60s, is a working grandmother of two. For her, the issue of caring for grandchildren is more about how it restricts her income than the physical exhaustion. “I tend to say no to extra paid work because the grandchildren come first, but I’d like to say yes,” she says.

The combination of paid work and care also means Westbrook doesn’t get many free evenings. She wishes she had more time so she could play bridge, go to the theatre or the movies.

So why doesn’t she just say no when she is asked to look after her grandkids?

“Because I love my children and don’t want to see their lives any more difficult,” says Westbrook. “Too much financial pressure can strain a marriage, and if I can ease that I’m very happy. I’m divorced and want my children to be with their partners forever.”

Helen Andersen* is in her early 60s and regularly cares for three of her grandchildren. Of all the women I spoke to, Andersen is the only one who has initiated honest conversations with her children about her grandparenting role.

“I come home from a day looking after the kids and every bone in my body aches,” she says. “I don’t have the energy I used to, and I don’t know if the younger generation appreciates that fatigue.”

Since having that conversation, Andersen’s daughter treats her mother more gently and is more considerate. And Andersen is certain that’s a good thing. “When you’re honest, it’s such a relief,” she says. She believes it’s vital for grandmothers to let their kids know they’re not superwomen, instead of always insisting they’re fine and happy to look after grandchildren.

Andersen also acknowledges how difficult it is to refuse requests for grandchildcare: “You always push yourself because it’s your child,” she says. “The hardest thing to do is say no because we’re programmed to help and love and care and to give support over resting our aching bodies.”

Myra Hamilton, a research fellow with the social policy research centre at the University of NSW, says: “Because grandchildcare is tied up with love, family history, culture and shared experience, setting boundaries around care becomes difficult.”

Dr Briony Horsfall, a sociologist at Swinburne University, agrees there are great expectations on Australian women to be constant sources of care-giving. “These grandmothers are nurturing multiple, intergenerational relationships. It’s quite subversive to say no because there’s a risk of being seen as a ‘bad’ grandmother and a ‘bad’ mother [to adult children].”

Another complicating factor, particularly for paternal grandmothers, is the fear of decreased access to grandchildren if they decline care, especially if it’s a daughter-in-law making the request. Sometimes, it’s easier to play it safe and just lie – as does one grandmother who pretends she is feeling unwell, or says she’s going out.

Of course, it’s not all bad: caring for grandchildren can provide enormous joy and satisfaction. When I asked each grandmother what their ideal care scenario would be, not one elected to opt out of caring for their grandchildren. Rather, grandmother utopia involves fewer care hours; or to spend more time having fun with grandchildren, for example taking them to the park or the beach; or to have extra paid help to do the more physically demanding jobs, such as cleaning and other domestic duties.

A 2015 study, Grandparent Childcare and Labour Market Participation in Australia, commissioned by National Seniors Australia, found there is a tipping point after which providing care becomes less enjoyable: grandparents who provide 13 or more hours of care a week are less likely to enjoy caring for their grandchildren, and more likely to feel the effects on their work and retirement decisions.

But often it’s not so easy for grandparents to reduce their care hours, says Myra Hamilton, a co-author of the report. “The fewer options that adult children have in terms of work flexibility, childcare options and financial security, the harder it is for grandparents to say no to requests for grandchildcare.”

A survey commissioned by the Australian Seniors Insurance Agency found that 58 per cent of grandparents have had to sacrifice their own lifestyle and recreation, and 30 per cent have had to alter their work arrangements in order to care for grandchildren, while 23 per cent said they’d like to look after their grandchildren less often than they do.

Becoming a grandparent is supposed to be the gold medal for surviving the hardships of parenting; the ultimate love affair. But the truth is more nuanced.

“My friends secretly comment about the mind-numbing boredom of grandchildcare,” says Andersen.

“You are dealing with children with brains the sizes of peas. Lots of us held high-powered jobs, were successful businesswomen, so however much you love those sweet babies … how many games of Eye Spy can you play without wanting to rush back to your fabulous novel and a quiet cup of coffee?

“We feel wanted, satisfied with a job well done, loved and delighted in the love we get back,” she says. “But it comes with issues no one discusses and that men never even think about.” •

*Names have been changed.

  • In 2013, the average age of becoming a grandparent was 58-60; in 1953, it was 54-56.
  • In 2014, 837,000 Australian children were cared for by their grandparents in a typical week.
  • In 2014, more than 97 per cent of grandchildcare was unpaid.
    Sources: ABS, McCrindle Research

Australia’s unemployment rate fell from 6 to 5.8 per cent in February because a large number of people gave up looking for work.

Key points

  • Unemployment falls from 6 to 5.8 per cent
  • Only 300 jobs added in February: +15,900 full-time, -15,600 part-time
  • Australian dollar hits 76 US cents on the data

The Bureau of Statistics estimated that only 300 jobs were added in February, but unemployment still fell because the participation rate dropped.

Seasonally adjusted figures point to a 0.2-percentage-point fall in the proportion of the adult population in work or actively looking for it.

The fall in participation saw the key monthly hours worked figure go backwards slightly, while the employment-to-population ratio also eased to 61.1 per cent.

In more positive news, the quarterly figures show a slight improvement in underemployment.

The ABS said the underutilisation rate (which combines those who are unemployed with those who are working less hours than they would like) has edged 0.1 of a percentage point lower to 14.2 per cent.

The underutilisation figures continue to show a deep divide between men and women, with the female underutilisation rate at 16.4 per cent compared to the male rate of 12.3 per cent.

‘Positive number’ but doubts remain over ABS data

Overall, the jobs figures were seen as a positive, as the creation of 15,900 full-time positions offset a 15,600-strong fall in part-time jobs.

It’s too soon to conclude that the recent stagnation in employment is genuine and is not just a statistical fallacy.

Paul Dales, Capital Economics

The typical economist forecast in a survey by Bloomberg was for 13,500 jobs to have been created and unemployment to remain steady at 6 per cent.

The Commonwealth Bank’s chief economist Michael Blythe said a steady trend unemployment rate at 5.8 per cent painted the most accurate picture of the jobs market.

“Net, net I would say it is a positive number in terms of the economic outlook. It’s still pretty much the case the unemployment rate is trending lower at the moment,” he told Reuters.

“That’s a pretty powerful signal about the economy and is certainly a message for the Reserve Bank as well.”

JP Morgan’s Tom Kennedy said the dip in participation also appeared to be an aberration.

“The participation rate has been moving higher for some time so for it to flick lower today is a little bit odd,” he told Reuters.

“We aren’t putting too much emphasis on that and we do think we’ll see a recovery in the participation rate going forward.”

Capital Economics analyst Paul Dales agreed that the latest figures are probably statistical noise, but he also argued that the strong growth at the end of last year was a bit overstated.

“It’s too soon to conclude that the recent stagnation in employment is genuine and is not just a statistical fallacy. But a weak performance in March would set off the alarm bells,” he wrote in a note on the data.

The Australian dollar jumped to 76 US cents by 12:28pm (AEDT) on the back of the results.

SA unemployment blows back out, Qld jobless rate falls

After having fallen dramatically over the past few months, South Australia’s unemployment rate surged dramatically in February.

It jumped from 6.8 per cent in January to 7.7 per cent last month, and is the highest jobless rate the state has recorded since August last year.

The rise was partly due to a 0.3-percentage-point increase in the state’s participation rate.

On the flip side, Queensland witnessed a dramatic drop in unemployment from 6.4 to 5.6 per cent, but its participation rate plummeted from 66.3 to 65.4 per cent.

New South Wales continues to have the best unemployment figures of the states, with unemployment easing from 5.5 to 5.3 per cent on the back of a significant fall in participation.

Western Australia and Victoria are stuck around 6 per cent unemployment, with Tasmania still close to 7 per cent.

The two territories continue to outperform, with both recording jobless rates below 5 per cent.

It is important to note that the seasonally adjusted state jobs figures are extremely volatile due to the smaller sample sizes involved in the ABS survey, particularly for the smaller states.

Next month the Turnbull Government will be asking the Senate to support one of the most devastating attacks launched against poor and vulnerable Australians in recent memory. The Bill – entitled Social Security Legislation Amendment (Further Strengthening Job Seeker Compliance) Bill 2015 – proposes to give privately run job agencies unprecedented new powers to financially penalise unemployed and underemployed Australians. If passed the fines will come into effect on 1 July 2016.

Under the proposal, Australians receiving the dole can be fined 10% of their income support – increasing by 10% each day until they ‘re-engage’ – if they:

  • Fail to sign a job plan at their first job agency appointment; or
  • Are found by their job agency to have behaved inappropriately at an appointment (“inappropriate behaviour” is defined as acting in a manner “such that the purpose of the appointment is not achieved”); or
  • Fail to attend a Work for the Dole or Training exercise without an excuse deemed reasonable by the job agency.

All fines (roughly $55.00) will be deducted immediately. Unemployed Australians who feel they have been unfairly fined will be required to go through Centrelink’s arduous appeals process to get their money back – a procedure that can take up to four months.

This means that even if an unemployed worker successfully appeals against a fine – and thousands do every year – they will still be forced to endure up to four months without a significant portion of their income support. As privately run job agencies can effectively impose these financial penalties on unemployed workers before having to provide any concrete proof, the Coalition’s proposal gives privately owned job agencies the power of life and death over unemployed workers.

With the dole already $391.00 below the poverty line according to the Melbourne Institute, for many unemployed workers a 10% deduction of their income support will place them in severe financial distress. If this proposal is passed next month, unemployed Australians will be just one unfair penalty away from extreme poverty and even homelessness

The dole has already been proven to be not enough to live on. A recent report showed that one in four people on the dole were forced to beg on the streets for more than a year, while 6 in 10 were required to approach a charity for help. Escaping this poverty-trap has become almost impossible for unemployed Australians – according to official government figures there are 11 job seekers competing for each vacancy, even more when you consider low-skill jobs.

With unemployment already a one-way ticket to poverty for many Australians, why is the Turnbull Government introducing a bill that will make it considerably harder for unemployed workers to survive?

To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the employment services industry. Comprised of for-profit and not-for-profit companies ranging from billion-dollar corporations like Max Employment to charities like the Salvation Army, the employment services industry has become a highly lucrative business.

Under the Coalition Government’s 4-year $6.8 billion Jobactive program, Government payments to employment services are tied to a variety of ‘jobseeker outcomes’. The most efficient way for job agencies to maximise outcome payments is to ensure that their unemployed ‘case-load’ are, at a bare minimum, compliant with appointments and activities. Clearly the employment services industry has a financial interest in obtaining increased powers to penalise the unemployed.

With these perverse financial incentives already firmly in play, there are a number of well-documented cases of job agencies bullying unemployed workers. Every day, the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union receives new cases of Australians being bullied into unfair activities or appointments by money-hungry job agencies.

Even if unemployed workers are able to muster up the courage to demand that their rights be recognised, job agencies use the threat of sanctions to ensure compliance. With the continued failure of the Department of Employment to effectively regulate the industry and bring bullying job agencies into line, unemployed workers have nowhere to go. This has created a culture of fear and intimidation throughout the employment service industry.

By proposing that job agencies should be given new unprecedented powers to financially penalise unemployed workers, the Turnbull Government is sending a clear message to the employment services industry that these tactics are not only acceptable but should be intensified.

If you have been unfairly fined by your job agency, join the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union legal challenge against this unfair compliance system by contacting them on contact@unemployedworkersunion.com. You can also participate in the AUWU’s Fight the Fine campaign against this bill. Visit the AUWU’s Facebook page for more info.

Date: March 2, 2016 

Jenny Brice

Ageism at work is rife, but fear is stopping people from talking about it.

In the movie Intern, Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) takes on a job as a a senior intern at an online fashion site.

In the movie Intern, Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) takes on a job as a a senior intern at an online fashion site. Photo: Supplied

Breaking through the glass ceiling is relatively easy. I did it almost 20 years ago.                                                                                                                But no one told me about the glass trapdoor – that was the shock nothing in my                                                                                                             stellar career had prepared me for. At the age of 50 I left a job for family reasons                                                                                                                for a short while, but I faced hurdles when I tried to return to the workforce.                                                                                                                     My corporate stiletto had slipped straight through the glass trapdoor.                                                                                                                                       I simply hadn’t realised that in the modern workplace, 50 is considered old.

This is not a unique story. The tentacles of age discrimination reach into every                                                                                                                 facet of Australian society and nothing we are now doing is working. The government                                                                                               bribing companies to take on older workers by paying $10,000 an older employee has                                                                                                   been a dismal failure. Fewer than 3000 people are involved in a scheme that hoped to attract 32,000.

The government’s intergenerational report makes it clear that older workers must work longer.                                                                                       It is a financial imperative, as it will boost productivity. An extra 3 per cent participation rate in                                                                            workers over 55 is estimated to account for a $33 billion boost to Australia’s gross domestic product.

As an added incentive for older people to continue to work the pension age will go up.                                                                                                  From July 2025, the qualifying age to receive the age pension will continue to increase from                                                                                            67 years, by six months every two years, until it reaches 70 years in July 2035.

The fatal flaw in this grand strategy is that employers are reducing older workers from their                                                                               workforce at alarming rates. Once older workers have left a job, it becomes difficult to re-enter                                                                                      the workforce. If they do, they are often underemployed and unable to maintain their previous standard of living.

To add to the problem the definition of an older worker is getting younger. It appears to be going down in                                                                five-yearly increments. Forget 65 think 50 or even 45. For redundancy purposes if an employee is 45, they                                                                are defined as an older worker. They receive small extra payments for the privilege. They then enter the                                                                 world of unemployment where it takes an average of 72 weeks for them to re-enter the workforce in some capacity.

Workers are becoming so fearful of being classified as old they are spending big dollars on keeping                                                                 themselves looking younger. Research shows that one of the primary reasons women go under the                                                                    surgeon’s knife is to ensure employability in the workforce. As an executive coach and facilitator,                                                                        working in corporate Australia, I am aware of the level of fear. That fear is not only confined                                                                                             to women it just starts earlier for them.

The government has acknowledged employment discrimination may derail its plans. An inquiry, to be                                                                     released in July, has been established to identify what is required to keep older people in the workforce.                                                                  Let’s hope it packs a punch because it will have to be taken seriously if the government wants to deliver                                                                       on any number of economic outcomes.

I agree with Susan Ryan, the Age Discrimination Commissioner, that age discrimination is a social                                                                             and economic issue affecting a growing cohort of men and women. It caught government by surprise.

It is important to dispel the myths: Australians over the age of 50 do want to work. The issue is they                                                                         often cannot get a job after their employment has been terminated. The new jobs they are offered are                                                                       often casual or jobs that no one else wants.

Financial hardship is becoming an inevitable reality for this group of older Australians and it’s                                                                            affecting their health. Worryingly men, who have lost employment between 45 and 65, are one                                                                                       of the largest growing groups of people with mental health issues.

Staggeringly, there are more people over 50 on work-for-the-dole schemes than unemployed                                                                                   people below 22. Even more shocking there are now 210,000 Australians over the age of 50                                                                                         who are living off unemployment benefits. Serious intervention is required if for no other                                                                                        reason than self-interest. No amount of bribery, no amount of Botox, no amount of surgery                                                                                               is going to mask this problem any time soon.

It’s easy for the the government to get the data, change pensions policies and set up an inquiry.                                                                                       It is much more difficult to change a culture. This is challenging in Australia, as ageism in the                                                                                workforce is as rampant as it is silent. Silence can no longer be accepted.

It’s time for governments, employers and Australians to act. Unlike the suffragettes, or powerful images                                                                       of Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all-white school in America, there has been no similar                                                           campaign or strong movement for the greying masses for anything to change.

Given the boost to profits, productivity and reduction on the burden of the aged pension, it is hard                                                                                 to understand why corporate Australia, state and federal governments and the Productivity Commission                                                                     are not rallying in the streets to make this happen.

Jenny Brice is an executive coach and a former HR director for several large Australian companies.

Updated 

The Federal Government has clawed back more than $41 million worth of false claims by private employment agencies in just the past three years.

The agencies are contracted by the Government under a privatised welfare-to-work program called Job Services Australia (JSA), a sprawling $1.3 billion-a-year scheme designed to get the unemployed into work.

A Four Corners investigation has found rorting of the scheme is rampant. Forgery, manipulation of records and the lodgement of inflated claims for fees are widespread.

One former agency employee said he had seen “thousands” of jobseeker records doctored by his agency to support suspect claims against the taxpayer.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, have been recouped at times by the department.

Rupert Taylor-Price

The managing director of a private employment agency told Four Corners: “There are incentives to be involved in sharp practices from a financial and performance perspective.”

“We had to do the same thing [because] everyone was doing it,” the source said.

“The Government does not want to expose the whole industry.”

Three years ago a top-level inquiry into just one type of fee found spectacular rates of failure, forcing cancellation of that particular fee and prompting industry-wide ructions.

Ominously, the inquiry noted that just 40 per cent of the claims it examined could be confirmed by documentary evidence, or by the testimony of jobseekers and their employers.

The Abbott administration has made some changes to the scheme that take effect mid-way through this year.

But critics say these changes will do little, if anything, to stop widespread gaming of the contract.

In a statement, Jobs Australia said: “A significant portion of the recoveries [were] volunteered by providers who [needed] to rectify minor administrative mistakes.”

But added that “while there [were] legitimate concerns about some aspects of the policies”, more than a quarter of job seekers found a job and exited JSA within three months.

“This is despite the fact that the system is incredibly complex, with a confusing payment model and thousands of pages of rules that must be interpreted and applied by the individual staff who work day in, day out, with people who are unemployed,” the statement said.

The not-for-profit organisation said the new employment services contract would reduce the scope for incorrect claims by simplifying payments.

“With rising unemployment, Jobs Australia believes there needs to be a more flexible arrangement that is firmly focused on getting people back into work – but also with strong checks and balances.”

Only one in 10 enjoy ‘better chance of gaining employment’

The ABC has learned that fraud investigators attached to the Department of Employment have launched probes into many of the major agencies contracted to the program since its inception in 1998.

For-profit companies, including the market leader, Max Employment, have been investigated for particular allegations, as well as well-loved Australian charities including the Salvation Army.

There are a variety of means by which the contract is exploited.

The ABC is not suggesting that any particular agency is engaged in the full range of rorts, or other means by which the contract can be optimised.

But despite a long parade of whistleblowers detailing allegations of the misappropriation of taxpayer funds by some agencies, and highly questionable practices by others, the government has declined to detail instances where it has ever sanctioned any single agency operating under the scheme.

But what the department does is only reclaim those from the failures it finds. So even if you are going to put in claims that have a failure rate, you’re still going to have a lot of them not found and keep the money … there’s still an incentive to make the claim.

Rupert Taylor-Price

In one case to be examined on Four Corners, investigators were forced to shelve their inquiries when they discovered a departmental official had explicitly told the agency that it could still collect fees for services the Government knew had never been delivered.

Rupert Taylor-Price, whose company provides software to Job Services Australia providers, says the scheme is being routinely “optimised” to the detriment of jobseekers.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, have been recouped at times by the department,” Mr Taylor-Price said.

“But what the department does is only reclaim those from the failures it finds.

“So even if you are going to put in claims that have a failure rate, you’re still going to have a lot of them not found and keep the money … there’s still an incentive to make the claim.”

He says he believes only one in 10 participants in the program enjoy “a better chance of gaining employment”.

The program was created 17 years ago, when the Howard government effectively privatised the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES).

The new policy created a pseudo-marketplace of jobseekers who were forced under Centrelink’s rules to attend private agencies, which would be paid to find them work.

Since then, more than $18 billion has been spent on the welfare to work program – first labelled Job Network, and now known as Job Services Australia.

It has been a cheaper scheme than the CES, but critics say it has also been far less helpful at assisting long-term unemployed people back into work.

‘You can’t make people search for jobs that aren’t there’

Academics and experts have repeatedly pointed out the glaring paradox at the heart of the program: how can these agencies have any impact on the unemployed when the number of jobless far outstrip the number of job vacancies?

“[The welfare to work program] patently hasn’t worked,” said Professor Bill Mitchell, director of Newcastle University’s Centre of Full Employment and Equity.

“It’s an impossible task … there’s not enough jobs to go around. You can’t make people search for jobs that aren’t there, and that’s the dilemma of the whole system.

“We’ve had a demand-side constraint – not enough jobs – and all this vigorous energy and money being poured into a supply-side initiative as if that’s the problem.”

Periodically, the jobs program has been mired in scandal. A major Productivity Commission inquiry in 2002 made adverse findings about the program, including that the long-term unemployed were being “parked”.

Just three years after Job Network was launched, one prominent job agency was accused of shovelling thousands of people into phoney jobs.

In what has become a pattern, a subsequent inquiry cleared the agency of fraud but demanded the repayment of thousands of dollars.

Insiders have told Four Corners that department managers have been reluctant to tighten up the program’s governing contract to prevent blatant rip-offs.

“It’s absolutely vulnerable to exploitation,” said a former senior departmental investigator.

He said he had significant doubts about the will of successive governments to root out the fraud perpetrated against the contract.

“The department was more interested in getting its money back [than sanctioning agencies] … it’s very politically-driven,” the former investigator said.

The Department of Employment provided figures to Four Corners which showed that millions of dollars are routinely recouped from agencies, as a result of audits, self-identification by agencies and other “program assurance activities”.

In 2011–2012, $8.34 million was recovered.

The figure spiked to $23.81 million the following year after the inquiry into one particular type of fee.

And last year, another $9.12 million was reclaimed.

A department spokesman said typical repayments by agencies amounted to “less than 1 per cent of the amount paid each year”, and said it had “robust systems” to detect inappropriate claims for fees.

He would not answer a series of specific questions about past or current investigations conducted by the department.

“In cases of suspected fraud, matters are referred to agencies such as the Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions,” the spokesman said.

“Since 2006 the Department has made 38 referrals to the appropriate authorities.”

Do you know more? Email besser.linton@abc.net.au

Our TV production company, based in Melbourne, is currently researching the area of baby boomers / seniors employment to assist us in a TV series we are looking at producing.

 

I am looking for personal stories to help demonstrate the success and also personal struggles when it comes to +50s gaining employment.

  • Have you re-trained in a new industry?
  • Are you a fish out of water, where you have been employed by a youthful company or brand specifically because of your expertise/experience?
  • Have found a new lease on life because of your new found employment?
  • Are you simply ‘bored’ in retirement and seeking work for something to do?
  • Or is going back to work after retirement an economic/personal choice?

 

I’m looking for a diverse range of interesting stories and takes. If you would like to get in touch to share your experiences or simply find out more, I would like to hear from you:

Email Pennie: pennie.brown@matchboxpictures.com.au