Developing older workers

Dr Peter Saul


written on April 14, 2015

When we talk of ’employee development’ we typically think of employers providing training and learning experiences to younger workers who have the potential to progress their careers within the organisation that is providing the development.

However, several trends are playing havoc with this traditional picture. First, employees are much more mobile these days and are unlikely to feel that they owe the developing organisation loyalty for life (or even for several years). So, development might be more realistically thought of as a component of an employer’s brand as a good place to work. Employers that offer development opportunities are much more likely to attract the best people because they will be seen to be good places to develop one’s market value as an employee – and, in today’s dynamic business climate, high marketability is the best form of employment security.

A second trend that is changing the traditional picture of employee development is the ageing population. At the recent summit on Older Australians at Work convened by AHRI and the Australian Human Rights Commission, the demographer Bernard Salt presented many statistics showing how the percentage of older workers in the workforce (i.e. workers over 60 years of age) is expected to grow in the next 10 years and beyond. For example, between 2013 and 2023 the number of Australians aged over 60 will increase by 4.2 million (compared with an increase of 3.4 million in the 10 years to 2013). Most of that increase will be people in the 70-80 age group. A link to Bernard Salt’s full presentation can be found on the AHRI website.

The Australian Financial Review of 6 March also presented statistics from the federal government’s Intergeneration Report 2015 highlighting the ageing of the population and of the workforce. In particular, it forecast that the number of Australians who are 65 and over will more than double between now and 2055 (this presumably assumes that immigration of younger people does not increase beyond present levels). The Intergeneration Report also forecasts that: “There will be fewer people of traditional working age compared with the very young and the elderly. This trend is already visible, with the number of people aged between 15 and 64 for every person aged 65 and over having fallen from 7.3 people in 1974–75 to an estimated 4.5 people today. By 2054-55, this is projected to nearly halve again to 2.7 people”. Furthermore, it goes on to say: “As Australians live longer and do so in better health, more Australians will continue to lead an active lifestyle and participate in the workforce after they reach traditional retirement age…Participation rates among those aged 65 and over are projected to increase strongly, from 12.9 per cent in 2014-15 to 17.3 per cent in 2054-55”.

So, employers will increasingly have to engage with older Australians in getting work done in the future. This will involve changes in the way that work and workplaces are designed and structured. For example, most older Australians do not want to work full time. They are also not prepared to put up with unproductive organisational policies and procedures that waste their time (as there are more aware than younger workers that the supply of it is limited). They want to be able to contribute their experience and workplace wisdom and to feel that this is valued by employers.

Develop All Stakeholders, Not Just Employees

When planning the development of an organisation’s people, I have seen the benefit that employers can derive by expanding their definition of “my people” to refer to all the organisation’s stakeholders; e.g. suppliers, business partners, distributors, customers, etc as well as employees and their unions and professional associations. Stakeholders are those individuals and groups who can make a difference (positive or negative) to the achievement of organisational goals. If you accept this definition, then it makes sense to plan how best to develop all of their capabilities to contribute to organisational success. This might be simply sharing annual objectives; involving key stakeholders in planning how best to achieve strategic goals; training them in the use of new IT systems; actively enabling your leading edge customers to get involved in product or service innovation; etc.

The wisdom and expertise of the older people in your stakeholder network can be a valuable untapped resource for many employers as these people want to contribute and will often add value to your organisation for little more than opportunities to get involved in interesting and worthwhile conversations and experiences; for signs that what they have learned over the course of a lifetime still has value; and for opportunities to “give back” to their industry or society.

For more information AHRI members can access an Older Workers report, which offers insights into the current state of play regarding older workers in the Australian workforce. Read the report.

This article was first published on the AHRI website as ‘Older employee development’. Find out more about AHRI membership here.

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