Mature aged people account for one in six workers in the Australian workforce, a share that has steadily increased over the past decade. Australia’s population is ageing as a result of historically low fertility rates (which have recently recovered to an approximately 30 year high) and increasing life expectancy. As this trend continues, the share of older people in the population and in the labour force will continue to increase.
Mature aged people face many barriers when actively looking to join the workforce. On average, older people remain unemployed for twice as long as their younger counterparts, with more than one third identified as long term unemployed. This may be attributed to a number of factors, including age discrimination, which older job seekers commonly report is a major barrier to entering the labour market. Research suggests that employers believe older people are more difficult to train and retrain, and thus favour the recruitment of younger people. This is compounded when recruitment agencies are reluctant to accept older people as clients or recommend them to employers.
Research shows that mature aged workers can deliver an average net benefit of nearly $2000 per year to their employer compared with younger workers due to increased retention, lower rates of absenteeism, decreased recruitment costs and greater investment returns on training.20 The perception that older people are difficult to train and retrain is misguided according to ABS data, which show that mature aged people are the fastest growing users of information technology.21 Australian Health Management conducted a study in 2006 which examined 4000 employees and observed that workers aged 55 years and over performed at their best for approximately seven hours out of an eight hour day, an achievement unmatched by other workers in the study.22 These results contradict the conventional assumption that older people are not as capable as their younger counterparts.
Over the five years to 2016-17, employment is projected to increase by nearly 830 000. Over this period, an increasing share of Australia’s population will reach retirement age and leave the workforce, taking with them a lifetime of skills and knowledge. The first of the baby boomer generation reached retirement age in 2011. As this generation retires in increasing numbers, shortages of skilled labour are likely to become more widespread, placing increasing pressure on employers to attract and retain workers. Over the coming years, employers will need to increase their use of strategies to recruit, train and retain staff in anticipation of older workers retiring, while taking advantage of the skills that older workers have to offer, for example by promoting mentoring arrangements, flexible working conditions, offering part time hours and offering workplace assessments to maximise comfort and accessibility. The Australian Government has also put in place a number of incentive and support programs for the benefit of mature aged workers and their employers.