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Maturing labour force trends

Australia’s mature-age workforce is on the up and up, with the latest Treasury calculations showing that the nation’s employers are increasingly retaining more older workers.

New employment and participation rate figures, released by federal Treasurer Wayne Swan at a conference in Sydney yesterday, reveals a steady growth in employment and participation rates among people aged 55 to 64 years over the last 10 years, with the largest increase recorded over the last three.

“Between May 2002 and May 2012, the labour force participation rate for those aged 45 to 64 years increased by 6.2 percentage points to 73.9 per cent,” Mr Swan told the Open Mature Age Employment conference.

The latest figures portray a national labour market where more older employees are being retained by employers, choosing to stay in the workforce and able to hold down a job.

CEO of National Seniors Australia, Michael O’Neill, said the new Treasury figures were “encouraging”.

“For far too long, participation rates [for this cohort] have been at really low levels and there has not been adequate growth at all,” Mr O’Neill said.

The Treasury growth calculation is not just “a flash in a pan”, he said, but instead reveal “pretty good signs” that Australia is moving forward on the issue of mature-age worker retention.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen a greater emphasis on people preparing for their retirement. It’s been more pronounced in recent times as going back a decade, people were becoming more aware of the need to build a nest egg. And that’s one reason why people continue to try and work.

“Secondly, the health of mature workers is certainly better [these days] and hence there is more opportunity for people to remain in the workforce.

“The GFC has also had an impact on [mature-age employment growth trends] over the last three years and perhaps…the other thing is just the sheer demand for skilled and experienced folk has grown.”

But, he said, while the employment growth trend is positive, “we shouldn’t get carried away”.

Treasurer Swan also announced that although older workers, already in a job, are staying put, those outside of the labor market find it hard to break through employment barriers.

“On the flipside, mature age workers, once unemployed, can find it difficult to re-enter the labour market, particularly those with limited education or skills that are no longer in demand,” Mr Swan said.

“The figures here are not so encouraging. The average duration of mature-age unemployment (people aged 45 years and above) was 62 weeks in May 2012, compared to 34 weeks for those aged 25-44 years and 24 weeks for those aged 15-24 years.

“And yet participation of mature age workers in the labour market is critical to Australia’s ongoing economic success.”

Mr O’Neill attributed age discrimination as the major cause preventing older, unemployed workers from getting a new job.

“All the evidence remains that the discrimination issue is the most significant impediment facing older workers [getting a job],” Mr O’Neill said.

“Employers don’t simply say I don’t want an older worker. They say they want someone [younger].

“…To some extent, in more recent years – say in the last two or three – the opportunity for [national] growth in employment has presented itself more in the resources area, where there is travel involved for most who take up [the opportunity].

” But older workers might be at a time of their life where they are not necessarily keen to pack up and move, while 25-44 year olds are able to do so.”

Mr O’Neill added that retraining, upskilling and applying for a new job might also be a major employment hurdle for a percentage of mature age workers.

Focusing on solutions

At the moment, Mr O’Neill said, there are positive signs of change for mature-age workers facing employment and labor force participation challenges.

“The issue has got the government’s attention and that’s a real tick,” he said. “It’s on the agenda. And the government has the desire to do things.”

Mr O’Neill believes the federal government should lead the charge and make a public statement about age discrimination in the area of employment.

Next, it should abolish the age limit in its own worker’s compensation schemes, and thereby set a good example.

“At a stroke of a pen, the federal government could abolish age discrimination in an area of their own responsibility by ensuring there are no more age barriers to workers compensation claims.

“Now that would send a very strong message that the government is actually serious about this.”

Mr O’Neill said it would show that they “practice what they preach”. They did it in the area of superannuation, he said, “here’s another opportunity to act on that”.

Further proof

The Australian Human Rights Commission have also hailed mature-aged workers as key to nation’s future economic growth.

A new report,  prepared by Deloitte Access Economics and released by the Australian Human Rights Commission at a conference yesterday, predicts that Australia’s workforce is set to grow by billions of dollars due to the contribution that older workers will make in the near future.

The Grey army advances says current growth in mature age workforce participation is already expected to see a $55 billion increase in national income by 2024-25.

A three per cent additional increase in mature age workforce participation would mean the national economy would be a further $33 billion larger. An increase of five per cent, the report said, would add $47.9 billion per annum.

“People are living longer, want or need to work longer, and older workers are needed in the workforce if the Australian economy is to grow,” said Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan at the Older Workers and business growth strategy forum in Sydney.

“Older workers are the obvious and available major solution to skills shortages currently holding back economic growth.”

“The bottom line is that, were we to see this increase in older worker participation, of five per cent, we are talking about an additional three quarters of a million people aged 55 years and older who would be in work instead of having to live on public benefits.

“This would be a massive success, both in terms of growing the workforce and reducing the national cost of welfare dependency.”

Reinvent Your Career would like to thank Australian Ageing Agenda where this article first appeared.

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