By all accounts, David Goodall was a top-notch researcher, which was why it was such a surprise when Edith Cowan University fired him. Why? His age. This situation is becoming more common as Australia confronts its ageing workforce, says Mike Irving, business and communication consultant.
Edith Cowan University recently made headlines with its decision to refuse to allow a researcher to continue his work at the school.
The researcher, David Goodall, is in good health, and by all accounts productive: He has more than 70 years of research behind him, has authored more than 100 papers, attained three doctorates and received an Order of Australia for his contributions to the field of ecology. He also contributes to the arts on stage, and in his interviews he is sharp as a tack.
He also happens to be 102 years old.
Now, I understand that there are legal and insurance implications if he happens to fall or injure himself on campus. But I still think this is a poor decision.
This man is an incredibly valuable asset that is being lost. He’s not getting fired; he’s being ostracised and essentially put in solitary confinement. The real problem is this hurts the university – and every person who could learn from his work experience – probably more than it hurts him.
As a society, we can’t seem to see the value of interacting with ‘old people’ or our ageing workforce. Where are the younger researchers at the university? Is there no understanding of what can be learned from someone his age?
I speak from experience as well as from the heart. I’m the founder and managing director of Objective Enterprises Pty Ltd, trading as Advanced Business Abilities. We are a coaching and training organisation that supports business owners and their staff in leadership development and performance.
The business is supported by a research team with an average age of 70. Our success – and the success of our clients – is largely based on the transfer of knowledge and experience from one person to another. And we are incredibly grateful and lucky to have older workers who can lend us their expertise.
These individuals are retired and have 50 years of experience in the fields of self-development, business coaching and management. They invented the field of business coaching in Australia.
Like Goodall, I’m sure they have forgotten more than I have even learned in my 40 years of life.
If Edith Cowan is concerned about the researcher’s health, then they should make arrangements for his travel, instead of isolating him. I think this is what most in academia would call ‘a learning experience’ about how to not treat an ageing workforce.