Older workers summit: 24 Feb

Amanda Woodard


written on February 26, 2015

An audience that ranged across the age spectrum gathered in Sydney at the invitation of AHRI and the Australian Human Rights Commission to discuss participation of older Australians in the workforce.

It was appropriate that the Older Australians At Work summit was a cross-generational event as – more than one speaker noted – inclusion and promotion of older workers in the workforce requires cross-generational support.

John Daley, CEO of Grattan Institute and demographic commentator and KPMG Partner, Bernard Salt set the backdrop for discussion with revealing data about the attitudes and motivations of older workers – as well as the budgetary challenges facing the Government if they fail to encourage mature-age workers to stay or return to the workforce.

Focusing on the supply side of the equation, Daley asked: How much do older workers want to work? Clearly, the fiscal incentives aren’t there. Grattan data reveals that people over 65 are paying less tax than they did 20 years ago partly because of changes to superannuation, while government spending on older people has risen dramatically, particularly in the pensions, health and aged care sectors.

As often stated, one problem is the greater number of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce than young people entering it. Bernard Salt agreed with Daley that this may be a matter of choice rather than discrimination against older workers. He vividly detailed the mindset of a Boomer generation who, after working and saving throughout their lives, have a sense of entitlement about what they feel is due to them in retirement.

But this is only one side of the coin. Many mature-age workers feel retirement is their only option and unless employers have conversations with their older workers about their needs and motivations, they risk losing valuable skills and knowledge, says Alison Monroe, CEO of SageCo.

From a panel discussion of leading HR professionals came stories of older workers who, their companies had discovered, wanted to remain useful, active and employed – while enjoying greater flexibility. Linda Redfearn, head of HR at Blackmores, Niki Kesoglou, group head of diversity and inclusion, QBE Insurance and Kate Dee (FAHRI), GM talent, culture and leadership at NAB talked about banishing stereotypes and not assuming that older workers always wanted to retire.

Kesoglou said QBE had begun by reviewing its talent management policies and asking questions about how to retain critical knowledge. Combining that with a new, flexible work policy led the company to explore further what motivated and drove their mature-age workforce.

All three businesses initiated conversations – in focus groups and through surveys – and collected data to build a story of their ageing workforce. NAB’s Kate Dee said the company’s approach was holistic, having discussions with mature-age workers as individuals, thinking about their health, relationships and financial situation. Blackmore’s approach was similar, helping employees to plan the latter part of their careers and transition to retirement. QBE’s Envisage program also began slowly with small interested groups but, Kesoglou remarked, as word spread throughout the company, tickets to attend were “snapped up quicker than for a Katy Perry concert”.

Moving from strategy to action, said Dee, “depended on having NAB’s executive sponsorship from the outset and then ensuring people leaders were skilled in having those conversations with mature age workers”. She was also pleased that establishing projects around the retention of mature age workers “had given her the opportunity to talk in front of leadership teams”.

Kesoglou summed up the belief among senior management: “From a workplace planning strategy, it’s critical to the future success of the business to have mature-aged workers engaged.”

For more on the topic of inclusion in the workplace attend the AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference, taking place in Sydney in May. Find out more

Don’t miss out on more great content like this.


9 thoughts on “Older workers summit: 24 Feb

  1. Was there any discussion about removing barriers to reengaging with older workers who have been lost through redundancy? With Government wanting us to work until where 70, what real incentives and support is given to an employer to employ older workers and change the attitudes of hiring managers that are often much younger? If you’re not in a qualified asset short service profession (lawyers, accountants and medical) the only jobs being promoted for older workers are for low skilled roles and unattractive shifts (bus drivers, shop assistants, traffic control and security). We want to work and retain our dignity by being employed using the skills that were in demand before the GFC. We can and will upskill, retrain and be dedicated employees for any employer who sees the value in grey power. And governments should be challenged to set the example. Rather than moaning that not enough young people are joining they should encourage us to return!

    1. I agree with Errol and other participants – we must value the accumulated knowledge, relationships, experience and connection that the older workforce brings to the workforce and organisations. If we value this as much as we should (valuable asset), why do we need any other incentive to actively and meaningfully engage the older workforce – as paid or unpaid workers? Its great we are having these conversations.

  2. I firmly believe the only way corporate Australia will pay due attention to mature age workers is through the establishment of Affirmative Action Agency for Mature Age Workers. A simple and inexpensive task for Government to add to EOWA reporting. Corporates need to explain their hiring and retrenchment patterns and be named and shamed for never hiring anyone over 50. The stereotype part time worker of today is usually a younger employee transitioning from parental leave rather than a mature aged worker transitioning to retirement. Many maternity leave replacements are hired in the image of the maternity leaver. What a shock it would be to make it compulsory for all maternity leave replacements to be mature aged workers ! Corporates should be prevented from participating in 457 visa sponsorships unless they have mature aged programs in place to capture mission critical knowledge and to mentor and coach the youthful and relatively inexperienced 20’s and 30’s. Most mature age workers can reflect on how easy it was to secure a job in their 30’s with 6 applications yet in their 50’s it takes close to 200 to attract an interview.. Only compulsion will address age discrimination in Corporate Australia. Organic change is simply not cutting it. Only legislation will secure and maintain employment until 70.

  3. I would like to know just how old the key note speakers and the panel are. They have not idea about older Australians wanting to work. To lump them into the baby boomer era is right but the reasons why people want and need to work. Many older people need to work to support themselves as they either have not had the opportunity to put enough away for retirement or they have lost money for a variety of reasons including the GFC. Ther are also the older people who enjoy the interaction that working gives them, them are fit and healthy and eager to work. They are also more loyal and prepared to stay longer at a job as they are more settled in life. Everyone entering the workforce is entitled to have a good start in their working life but not to the detriment of the older people who are capable and able to do just as good a job with experience and knowledge behind them. From personal experience my hsuband was made redundant 2 years ago after working in the IT industry for most of his working life. He has has countless interviews and the one question that is asked at the end of the interview is “how old are you”,and that’s the last he hears from them. His experience and credentials are not considered so don’t say their is no discriminations in the workplace until you have experienced it first hand.
    Its a pity organisations like AHRI don’t engage more older workers to help sell their vision of employing older workers then the rest of use might take them seriously.

    Less people in the workforce means less tax being paid, but more people asking for welfare handouts.
    Note: my husband can’t even get the pension or health care card after working for 0ver 50 years in this country paying taxes as I earn just over he cut off point.

  4. Two examples of Mature Age Worker Initiatives:
    1. A well known blue chip company in the Telco infrastructure services industry had an Apprentice completion rate of less than 60%. When an”old bloke” Supervisor / Mentor was appointed to coach and council on a part time basis the retention rate hit a 98%. A considerable overall cost saving and value add.
    2. The HR cycle of an international construction firm added “legacy” to the “Attract, recruit, retain/develop, transition to retire” cycle) They actively nurture a pool of their retirees (and transition to retire) as “temps” to call upon to deal with special projects / tenders and work load peaks. No recruitment agency fees and a very reliable, loyal culture fit.

  5. We are Australia’s only national job board specifically for over 45’s and are pleased to see these conversations continuing. We have over 35,000 registered jobseekers (growing daily) and many of them are desperate for work, many have all but given up and others have been unemployed, despite having good skills, for years.
    The Restart program has not had the positive impact the Government had hoped (rarely do these type of incentives) and does not include all workers over the age of 50. The Corporate Champions program has had its impact largely on retaining older workers so for older jobseekers offered little by way of support. Given the high budget for this program an independent review of the effectiveness and value for dollar of this program should be essential.
    Anyone who watched 4 Corners last week would have seen how very flawed and ineffective the Job Services Australia program that is funded $1.3 billion a year is in terms of assistance and support for jobseekers. In fact we have jobseekers who tell us their JSA told them they would probably never work again because of their age, some only in their early- mid fifties so had at least a decade before being able to get a pension. It also means they have missed those years of accumulating superannuation.
    Clearly mature age jobseekers aren’t getting the assistance they need and ageism is alive and well.
    On the bright side we also have over 2,000 registered age-friendly employers who know the value of a diverse workforce that includes older workers.
    I suspect the Intergenerational Report about to be released may force the Government to do more in relation to policy changes for older workers and jobseekers.

  6. The most striking aspect of this article is the apparent absence of the older workers’ perspective represented in the photograph, which I’m assuming is the panel of “Leading HR professionals.”

    It scarcely needs saying, but you’d reckon an HR peak body would be sensitive to the need to include representation from the demographic under discussion. At face value, the image conveys a less than subtle message of ageism.

    The second outstanding issue is the report that these companies “discovered that older workers wanted to remain useful, active and employed”. So if this was “discovered”, we can assume they didn’t know a fairly fundamental truth about human purpose?

  7. Very good observation Damien and others – not one mature worker in the photo – a small oversight by AHRI and one I hope they acknowledge.

    Also, I am personally offended by Mr. Salt’s comment below:
    “He (Bernard Salt) vividly detailed the mindset of a Boomer generation who, after working and saving throughout their lives, have a sense of entitlement about what they feel is due to them in retirement.”

    Dear Mr. Salt what is the evidence you are basing this on?

    All we want is a fair go and not discrimination when applying for roles. I know what I am entitled to after years in the workforce and yet I am willing to compromise on this in order to continue to play a role in the workforce and share my knowledge and expertise – are you?

    It is people like you Mr. Salt that hinder my (our) attempts to get even get a foot in the door with such outlandish comments.

  8. Speaking for myself as an older worker in his late 60s, and an AHRI staff member, I prefer younger generation advocates arguing the merits of older worker employment. Regardless of the soundness of the arguments, older workers stating the case on their own behalf risk being seen as self-serving. I wasn’t an organiser of the summit but I attended, and observed that the two speakers who opened the event – Human Rights Commissioner Susan Ryan and AHRI Chairman Peter Wilson – were both older than 60 years of age. The third opening speaker was Kate Dee from NAB who would probably be a manager in her 30s, and she spoke impressively about the issue.

To comment on this article please provide your name and email address. Your email address will not be available publicly.