Harnessing experience: a new approach for
Australia′s ageing workforce

The Australian Government′s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations talks to Diversity Matters about the Consultative Forum it established on mature-age participation and its role in examining the barriers to employment for mature-age people.

With the ageing of our population and skills shortages looming as a major problem for Australian industry, Australia cannot afford to ignore the skills and experience that mature-age people bring to the workplace.

The statistics speak for themselves. Today there are five working-age people for every person aged 65. By 2050 the ratio will fall to 2.7 people.

For Australian businesses, there are a lot of benefits that come with employing mature-age people, like a strong sense of loyalty, reliability and an extra depth of insight. Employing mature-age workers can have a real impact on business outcomes, leading to high retention rates, lower rates of absenteeism and greater productivity.

Yet not all employers are aware of the benefits of employing older workers, and there is some work that needs to be done around encouraging businesses to really harness the skills and contribution of mature-age people.

Similarly, we also need to better encourage mature-age people to continue to participate in the workforce and make a more gradual transition to retirement, allowing them to pass on their skills and knowledge, as well as enhancing their own well being and self worth.

Of course, tackling these issues is a complex task, and any policy responses need to reflect a good understanding of this complexity.

That′s where the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation comes in.

Consultative Forum to tackle barriers

The Treasurer Wayne Swan announced the formation of the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation in February 2010 as part of the Australian Government′s response to the 2010 Intergenerational Report, Australia to 2050: Future Challenges.

Chaired by former National Seniors Australia Chairman, Mr Evarald Compton AM, the Forum includes representatives of seniors groups, employer and industry organisations, unions and other experts.

One of the key things that the Forum has been tasked with examining is the barriers to employment for mature-age people, in particular negative employer and community attitudes.

At its most recent meeting, the Forum identified 14 key barriers to mature-age participation, ranging from age discrimination to the appropriateness of training and re-skilling.

These barriers will form the basis of the Forum′s recommendations to Government, due when the Forum comes to a close on 30 June 2012.

The Forum will also present interim recommendations later this year that will feed into the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential for Senior Australians – this is important as it looks at the participation of older Australians in all aspects of community life, not just workforce participation.

Selling the benefits to employers

Importantly, the Forum is leading the way in engaging with employers.

Some of the key materials that the Forum has fed into are the Investing in Experience Employment Charter and the Investing in Experience Toolkit, developed by the Australian Industry Group.

The Charter sets out nine better practice principles for employers to help increase the recruitment and retention of mature-age people.

The new Investing in Experience Toolkit complements the Charter and provides employers with practical step-by-step information, checklists and tools to help them assess how well they recruit and retain mature-age people. The tool kit also helps organisations implement policies and practices to remove age-related barriers to participating in paid employment.

Corporate champions

In March this year, the Forum played host to a business leaders′ morning tea attended by the Treasurer Wayne Swan and the Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare, Kate Ellis, that challenged employers to become ‘corporate champions’ for the recruitment and retention of mature-age people, removing barriers to employment and age-related discrimination, and demonstrating leadership in the implementation of age-friendly work practices.

The purpose of the morning tea was to launch the Corporate Champions project, a new project that forms part of the ongoing bid to promote the business benefits of employing and retaining mature-age workers.

The project is being led by the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), which means that the organisations that take part will get one-on-one support from either Australian Industry Group or ACCI to establish goals for their organisation around the recruitment and retention of mature-age people, working to achieve these goals over a 12 month period.

The idea is to identify and showcase better practice strategies for attracting and retaining older workers, and to communicate these to employers across Australia.

Encouragingly, a number of leading employers have signed on to participate in the project, including AECOM.

Working with Australian Industry Group, AECOM aims to provide a workplace that not only retains their current workforce but is also attractive to workers looking for a more supportive employer as they transition to retirement.

AECOM says that by retaining employees who want to keep working past the traditional retirement age, the company can avoid talent shortages and, crucially, retain critical knowledge and experience that can be passed onto younger team members.

In short, AECOM and other leading employers around the country agree – it makes good business sense.

To find out more about the Corporate Champions project, the work of the Forum and the Investing in Experience Employment Charter and Toolkit (see below), visit www.deewr.gov.au/experienceplus, call 13 17 64 or email [email protected].

Investing in experience – the business benefits

Research by the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre has shown there are nearly two million older Australians who are willing to work, could be encouraged to work, or are unemployed and looking for work, and that there is a significant economic cost for not utilising the skills and experience of older Australians.

The rapidly growing group of mature-age Australians represents a key pool of potential workers with which to respond to the projected labour market shortage. But they remain an untapped potential.

The benefits of attracting and retaining mature-age workers include:

  • Access to skilled, experienced, loyal and productive employees (absenteeism rates are equivalent or lower for older workers while retention rates are higher);
  • Continuity of knowledge and corporate memory;
  • A solution to labour shortages; and
  • The ability to align your workforce with your customer base.

‘Investing in experience: A practical guide to employing and managing mature-age workers’ is a comprehensive guide for employing people aged 45 years and over in Australia and has been developed by a partnership of the Australian Industry Group and members of the Australian Government’s Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation. The guide provides advice and resources to help employers implement positive age management practices in their organisations.

The guide includes information such as:

  • The business case
  • How well does your organisation employ mature-age workers?
  • How to recruit the best mature-age workers
  • How to retain the skills and knowledge of your mature-age workers
  • How to provide flexible working arrangements
  • How to navigate superannuation and pensions for mature-age workers
  • How to provide a safe workplace
  • How to maximise training and development outcomes for mature-age workers.

Checklists, case studies and links to further resources are also included throughout the toolkit. Visit www.deewr.gov.au/experienceplus to see the full Investing in Experience Toolkit.