Unemployed Older Workers in Australia – Employers are cautious about candidates referred by public employment services – especially mature age jobseekers

Australia’s publicly funded employment services are not working particularly well for mature age jobseekers. The rate of long-term unemployment among those aged over 45 is relatively high.

In a changed labour market and with an ageing population, understanding the attitudes and needs of employers is vital to assisting unemployed older Australians get and keep jobs.

Building on previous research about mature age workforce participation, the Enhancing employment services for mature age jobseekers study aimed to explore how jobactive (the latest iteration of public employment services) might better assist older jobseekers. The study entailed interviews with mature age jobseekers, jobactive staff and employers in four Victorian employment regions with high rates of mature age unemployment.

This report focuses on employer perceptions of public employment services and mature age jobseekers. It draws on the analysis of 22 interviews with employers, employer groups, policy makers, diversity organisations and employment services peak bodies.

Key findings

Some employers are cautious about employing mature age workers

While most of the employers we interviewed had age-diverse workforces, some were concerned about increased risk of injury among older workers and especially were reluctant to employ previously injured workers.

A common perception was that mature age workers are generally less competent and confident with information technology (IT) than younger workers. Employers also highlighted the need for training, including IT skills training that directly relates to job opportunities.

Some employers expressed frustration about mature age jobseekers who applied for jobs for which they were overqualified, believing that they would use the job as a stepping stone to a more senior position.

Key informants emphasised the importance of employment services assisting jobseekers to identify their transferable skills and tailor their CVs to different roles, for example when older candidates were moving out from declining industries into another sector.

Some employers have limited awareness of jobactive

The employers we interviewed had little awareness or understanding of jobactive as a particular version of public employment services.

To some degree, this might reflect the newness of the name, and confusion about the difference between Centrelink and employment services. The limited awareness also possibly reflects the low use of employment services, and especially public employment services, by employers generally. According to Department of Employment surveys, in 2015 just 4.7% of employers used public employment services compared with 8% in 2011 (KPMG 2016, p. 19). This highlights an inherent challenge in jobactive’s intermediated job placement method for low-skilled positions.

Employers are cautious about candidates referred by public employment services – especially mature age jobseekers

Few of the employers we interviewed currently used jobactive. Some said they were reluctant to use jobactive (if they knew about it at all) because of concern ‘about the type of candidate they’re going to get’. These employers were cautious about recruiting people who are currently unemployed, whatever their age. Wage subsidies such as Restart did not overcome these employer concerns.

Employers want well-matched candidates for vacancies

Employers emphasised the need for an efficient service that requires relatively little effort on their part. The few who used jobactive said that they appreciated having a single point of contact who took time to understand their business needs and recommend well-matched candidates. Others reported being inundated with irrelevant applications and poor quality applicants referred by jobactive.

There is a risk of over-promising and under-delivering

Some key informants suggested there is a mismatch between what the system promises—to both employers and jobseekers—and what it can feasibly deliver. They argued that web and TV promotion of employment services risks being counterproductive: if employers do not find the kind of service they need they will be even less likely to use it in future.


Inclusive employment requires effort on many fronts

Employment services face many challenges in promoting mature age jobseekers to employers who may be reluctant to take on staff they perceive as ‘rusty’ or ‘threatening’. Programs such as the now-defunct Corporate Champions can help to promote the benefits of age-diverse workforces among employers; however, they also run the risk of reinforcing age stereotypes. Other mechanisms such as requiring public tenders to have an age diversity clause could promote mature age recruitment. These measures should aim for age diversity rather than pit one age group against another. Furthermore, business case arguments about the benefits of employing mature age workers are unlikely to succeed unless employers’ concerns about mature age jobseekers’ real and perceived limitations are addressed. For example, targeted training in computer and digital skills could assist some mature age jobseekers.

Policy instruments can foster accountability for inclusive employment practices. For example, the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 was devised to respond to the persistent gender pay gap and low representation of women in senior positions) and encourage businesses to take responsibility for recruiting and promoting women (Gaze 2014). Australian businesses with 100 or more employees must report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) their performance on a range of ‘gender equality indicators’, including their workforce composition and the distribution of men and women in full-time, part-time and casual work. The Act could be amended to include age, in recognition of the intersections of age and gender discrimination in workplaces. Then the WGEA reporting could include age data.

Reporting the employment characteristics of public sector organisations is also important (see, for example, the annual State of the public sector in Victoria, which provides data about age and gender of public sector employees).

Job-matching requires both time and knowledge

Strategies such as careful job-matching can help overcome some employer concerns about taking on long-term unemployed workers—at whatever age. Successful job- matching takes time and expertise and requires a good understanding of each jobseeker’s skills and experience and employers’ needs. Employer Liaison Officers were introduced in 2017 as part of the Department of Employment’s effort to work more effectively with employers in relation to youth unemployment. In the short term, this role should be expanded to include promotion
of mature age jobseekers. More broadly such officers could facilitate collaboration between local providers to avoid overloading employers with unsuitable applications; however, this will require changes to the contract to encourage collaboration on a local level between providers.

To effectively tackle unemployment and discrimination, broader strategies are required

While responding to employer needs is important, this approach alone will not effectively tackle unemployment or discrimination—especially for mature age jobseekers. Active labour market policies need to recognise the changed nature of work and the labour market. What is required is a focus on job creation and economic development. Local economic development can be fostered through local, state and federal government cooperation within an overarching national economic development strategy.


Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Missing the mark: employer perspectives on employment services and mature age jobseekers in Australia


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