By Natalie Jenkins, Skills and Customer Experience Manager, Apprenticeship Network Provider
In my role managing the VERTO Skills Checkpoint team, I see the benefits mature age workers can offer employers, from life and professional experience to a range of transferable skills. With this first-hand experience, it concerned me greatly to read recently that almost 50 per cent of Australian businesses wouldn’t hire an older worker.
It’s important that we shine a spotlight and start a conversation around this critical issue. With Australians living and working longer than ever before, it’s not just an issue for individuals, it’s an issue for us all. So today, I want to talk about some of the drivers behind statistics like this, what we can do to change this mindset, and why we should.
While we are becoming a society that eschews stereotypes, older workers are one group who are still subject to many generalisations and stereotypes in the workplace.
When it comes to the workplace, stereotypes are often centred on incorrect perceptions, such as older workers costing more, experiencing more health issues, not being able to adapt to change, or having difficulty learning new things. In most cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth, but these misconceptions still abound in many industries.
Unfortunately, in a recruitment process, these stereotypes can lead to an older candidate being overlooked under the wide umbrella of ‘cultural fit’. In fact, according to an Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) study, 67 per cent of Australians aged 54-65 report being turned down for a position based on their age.
‘Over-experience’ an increasing challenge
When COVID-19 first hit, we saw many workers of all ages losing employment, and while our employment rates are now heading in the right direction, it has proved more challenging for many mature age workers to return to the workforce.
One of the issues we’ve been seeing more and more recently is ‘over-experience’. We’ve had an increase in people seeking support from VERTO who have held senior or highly skilled roles in disrupted industries and are looking to transfer their skills to a new industry. Many are having trouble getting in at senior levels because they don’t have industry experience yet are overlooked for entry-level jobs because they have ‘too much experience’. It’s a real catch-22.
The employment landscape has changed
For many in the “baby boomer” generation and even Generation X, staying in a job long term was considered a positive, that showed loyalty and commitment to an employer. Millennials and younger generations tend to have higher job mobility, staying in jobs for 18 months to 2 years before moving on a to a new opportunity. Whereas this was once seen as a negative, this view is starting to change, and some are seeing job mobility as a sign of agility, continual learning and ambition.
We are also seeing significant growth in the number of short-term and contract roles offered as the world of work changes. For mature age workers who may have significant family or financial responsibilities, these opportunities may not be as appealing. And when you consider the additional barriers to finding employment, it makes sense that these job seekers would be looking for something more permanent and long term. Unfortunately, as a result of the pandemic, many employers are hiring for flexible, contract roles rather than permanent, full-time ones.
Forward-thinking employers are realising the benefits
The reality is that mature age workers bring a host of benefits and a wealth of experience to an employer. One benefit that really stands out is emotional intelligence. Of course, emotional intelligence doesn’t necessarily come with age, but it does come from significant life and professional experience. A lack of emotional intelligence can cost a business dearly, from productivity losses to cultural decline and workplace toxicity, so hiring people who have worked with and learnt how to deal with different personalities can be a real win.
This is just one of many benefits, and forward-thinking employers do see the opportunities on offer. Anecdotally, the VERTO apprenticeships team are seeing more employers ask about mature age apprentices, because they are realising that an older worker with some life experience behind them can be a great asset to any business.
Large-scale change will require a mindset shift
The reality is that Australians are working longer and longer and supporting this shift will take a mindset change by not just the business community, but society at large. As life expectancy and therefore working years increase, we need a clear pathway forward for older workers to remain in the workforce and continue to upskill and reskill to meet today’s rapid pace of change.
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