Empowering older Australians to continue working is the best solution to our skills shortage | Rebecca Huntley
Every Australian is now well and truly aware that our nation is living through a massive skills shortage. But what people might not know is that a large part of the solution is pretty simple and swift.
Better still, it won’t even cost much.
Our latest research shows that being truly age-inclusive and giving older people more support and options to stay at work would result in more Australians choosing to work well into their 70s.
In August, we surveyed 600 Australians aged 50-60, and found that 25% wanted to stay at work until at least 70 (7% said until 75). This is far higher than our current workforce participation rate for people 65 or older which is only 14.7%.
That’s an extra 125,000 people who are experienced and willing, already here and keen. It’s also more than half of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s pipe dream of 200,000 new migrant workers.
It really should be no surprise that as we live longer and are able to work more flexibly, people who enjoy their work want to keep doing it.
This week’s jobs and skills summit is the perfect opportunity to start deeply exploring how that could happen. Our research shows that older Australians are willing to update, up-skill or retrain – including three out of four respondents who say they’re keen to work past 70.
Standing in their way are barriers to quality training, with half of all respondents concerned about the cost (51%) and time (49%) involved. Thirty-three percent said they were not sure what courses and opportunities are available.
And then there’s the stigma directed at older workers.
Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they experienced age-based stereotyping at work. This is consistent with research done by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) on age discrimination.
The entrenched assumption that this group is eager to leave the workforce and is not as valuable as younger cohorts is misconceived and must be addressed. We have a real opportunity to address these barriers, in the same way change has been implemented for other generations and cohorts.
The current education and training system helps young people transition from higher education or vocational training into the workplace through career development programs. People with young families can access maternity leave, part-time work and return-to-work programs.
But we don’t have a systematic approach to encouraging and supporting older Australians to stay on at work – in any capacity.
The key finding from our research is that 50 to 60-year-old workers don’t get anywhere near the recognition or assistance other generations doand this is having a negative effect on our workplaces, economy and society.
As more of us stay healthier and live longer, Australia needs to reimagine how someone manages work with the challenges of their next and still productive stage of life. We need to update the system and critically old-fashioned attitudes that have held us back from making these adjustments in the past.