Commissioner says age crisis preventable

by 30 Nov 2011

The recently appointed Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, has said that organisations are under employing older people at the expense of business productivity.

Speaking at the Australian Industry Group Personnel and Industrial Relations Conference held in Canberra yesterday, Ryan said that businesses must reassess the construct of the ‘ideal employee’.

“A recent Deloitte report on the looming national skills shortage asked the question that should be on the lips of most businesses: Where is your next employee coming from?” Ryan said. “Their answer was clear – your next employee is retired or about to retire.”

Ryan also told the conference that older age is unnecessarily seen as a negative trait in the employment sector.

“Unless we change our employment practices and our basic thinking about suitable employees, we will create a class of older people who are very often willing and perfectly capable of working, but have been forced into becoming a burden on the public purse – ironically, when we are suffering an ever worsening nationwide skills shortage,” she said.

Ryan said age discrimination was one of the main causes of this situation and it was not just restricted to the attitudes of employers, but was also written into the legislation and policies that govern employment and workplace practices.

Research from Mercer’s 2011 What’s Working survey found that just 40% of 55-64 year olds felt they had sufficient opportunities for workplace growth and development.

Ryan said it was a widely held view, though a wrong one, that older workers can’t learn new skills, particularly in the technology area.

“There is no scientific evidence that older workers are more difficult to train or find it harder to learn,” she said, adding that research has shown older workers have the lowest turnover, the fewest sick days and the best safety record in employment.

Rob Bebbington, head of Mercer’s Human Capital business in Australia and New Zealand, commented on the findings, and said employers, HR directors and business managers need to look closely at where their older employees are best placed within organisations, and where their skills and experience can be shared and optimised to prepare the next generation of leaders.

Ryan said she believed that by working together, employers, HR managers, recruiters, government and advocates could quickly go a long way in changing these negative practices.


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