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Age diversity programs: the best of the best

More and more organisations are creating programs that empower a multi-generational workforce. HRM profiles some of the most outstanding.

As working years now span from late teens to beyond 70 years, HR professionals are reinventing recruitment and training practices to accommodate the opportunities and challenges a multi-generational workforce brings to a business.

From offering flexible working hours to combining work and study, HR is taking various measures to attract, retain and support older and younger employees. The following organisations are going above and beyond in this space – they’re all finalists for the Susan Ryan Age Diversity Award at this year’s AHRI Awards.

Good beginnings

The Department of Finance’s Career Starter Program is aimed at getting high school graduates in the workforce and teaching them the basics of working for the Federal Government.

The Department’s Head of HR, Cassie Alexander says, “Our career starters bring a lot of energy and diversity of thought in the department. As we are building future capabilities around data analytics, we have to start investing in this cohort of employees who already have those skills coming out of high school. It is also good for the career starters because they get a taste of what the workforce is like and accordingly decide how best to utilise their university studies”.

The department has taken 187 career starters with an overall retention rate of 41.1 percent since the program was started 12 years ago.

Alexander says, “We saw a gap in the market for that entry level position and wanted to create a pipeline of future talent coming through in the public service. Our career starters are between 17 and 20 years old. We support them to pursue further study whilst still working with us. They can choose to work full time and study outside of work or study and work part-time”.

A smooth transition

On the other spectrum is WCD – Workers’ Compensation Solutions, a business consultancy, which has partnered with Blackwoods, a part of the Wesfarmers group and leading provider of industrial and safety products, to introduce a program assisting older workers plan for their future.

Sixty three per cent of the respondents to the Australian HR Institute’s 2018 Older Workers Research Report classify an older worker as 61 years of age or older and 37 per cent respondents expect to retire between 66–70 years of age, but 56 per cent of respondent organisations do not have a transition-to-retirement strategy in place.

WCD Director Morag Fitzsimons says, “Our Planning for the Time of Your Life program focuses on helping people understand the importance that work plays in their life and consider what would help them to continue working”.

“Often older people may exit the workforce early because of their own ill health or that of a loved one or they don’t really understand what options there are for them in the business. We talk to them about their physical, psychological and financial wellbeing and the things that their workplace can offer to help them stay at work. Initiatives can also be put in place to transfer key skills and knowledge elsewhere in the business to retain this knowledge when a staff member retires or resigns”, Fitzsimons adds.

The program provides Blackwoods’ distribution centres across Australia insights and understanding into the future working intentions of its workforce.

AHRI’s research shows that flexible work is the top reason respondents cite that would encourage them to remain in the workforce.

Age should not be a factor

Credit and Investments Ombudsman’s (CIO) Head, People and Culture, Priya Subrahmanyan says, “Age should not be a factor in people’s entry and participation in the workforce. It is about valuing what each generation, be it Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, brings to the table, and ensuring respect for all, collaboration, teamwork and reciprocal mentoring”.

(Note: From 1 November 2018, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority will replace CIO, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT), to create a single place for consumers and small businesses to lodge financial services complaints)

CIO’s workforce is largely millennial, but from early 2017 to June 2018, the organisation has been able to turn around the ratio of younger workers to those over 40 years from 92:8 to 65:35.

Subrahmanyan says, “One of the barriers that we had to break down was the age-related unconscious bias prevalent in some hiring managers due to a perception that older workers might not necessarily be comfortable being managed by people several years younger, and with fewer years’ industry experience. This led us to rethink our recruitment strategy more broadly including promoting the benefits of a diverse workforce, addressing stereotypes, in depth screening, and recognising the extent to which flexibility options were valued”.

Raise awareness of both conscious and unconscious bias and its impact on decision making in your workplace, with Ignition Training’s Managing unconscious bias’ in-house training course or toolkit.

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