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The Mature Worker - a Reality Check

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17/21/14 | Posted by Administrator

If age brings experience, why is it so difficult for those over 50 to find work? 

The Mature Worker: a Reality Check

If age brings experience, why is it so difficult for those over 50 to find work?

Australia’s population, like those across the first world, is aging. By 2056, 25% of the nation’s population will be over 65. At the same time, the youthful population is proportionately shrinking, leaving less young people to help fund a pension system designed to carry the older generation into retirement. To counter this trend, the Abbott government has recently raised the pension age to 70 by 2035. While some will resent the need to work additional years, we are a healthier bunch who arguably should stick around longer to keep the nation’s wheels turning.

But if government policy is changing to adjust for the graying of our workforce, cultural attitudes aren’t keeping up with this demographic shift. The stories aren’t hard to find: qualified individuals sending out hundreds of job applications with nary a bite. Impressively credentialed men and women pounding the payment, unable to find the most basic retail position. Experienced workers settling for minimum wage jobs behind the counter at McDonald’s after decades of a professional career. The mistake of these downwardly mobile individuals? Finding themselves on the wrong side of 50.

A study by the Australian Human Rights Commission revealed that you are 47% more likely to lose your job once you’ve hit 55. In an age of restructuring and takeovers, the seniority and larger salaries of mature workers are prime targets when employers cut costs. Older workers can be expensive and therefore, expendable.

Salary considerations aren’t the only hurdle for the older worker; ageism is alive and well in the developed world. A recent study in the Journal of Age and Aging found that a full 1/3 of British people aged 50+ reported some instance of discrimination based upon their age.

To counter the admitted difficulty of finding work after 50, the Abbott government has proposed subsidies of up to $10,000 to employers who hire previously unemployed “mature workers.” Paid in four installments over a period of two years, employers will have the burden of demonstrating the applicable job is ongoing and that subsidised hires will not displace existing workers.

Numerous senior advocates argue that the use of employer subsidies to attract mature workers is shortsighted and ineffective. Recent reports by the Australian Aging Agenda suggest that only an estimated 32,000 mature workers will fall within the scheme annually, a minimal percentage of the adult population. Furthermore, some employers may find the potential for payment won’t merit the increased administrative burden.

Ultimately, throwing money at the problem sends the wrong message: that the value of an older worker is found solely in the resulting financial incentive.

So what’s the solution? In Treasurer Joe Hockey’s recent Budget speech, he referenced the need for a cultural change in business that included the use of funding to retrain older workers. But the shift needs to extend beyond business to instigate transformation at a sweeping level. Until there is a concerted effort by society to view the aging employee as a valued and accomplished member of our nation, our most experienced workers will be swept aside. Age discrimination in the workplace must be addressed or, if you are lucky enough to grow old, you may be unlucky enough to have it happen to you.

Join the AC conversation: What is your experience? What is your solution?