There is some doubt whether a newly elected Coalition Government will continue to fund the older worker initiatives; yet given the current Government's track record, they have a low bar to start from, writes Malcolm King.
The September 14 election announcement has killed employer enthusiasm for the Government’s Mature Age policy agenda, Experience+. The Commonwealth Government took three years to launch the programs and now it is too late in the election cycle to bed them down as employers sense a change of Government.
There is considerable doubt whether a newly elected Coalition Government will continue to fund the older worker initiatives.
I have researched and written about the post war generation since 1992 and was an academic at RMIT working in the area of creativity and adult education. Back in 1997, Peter Drucker wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “The dominant factor for business in the next two decades – absent war, pestilence, or collision with a comet – is not going to be economics of technology. It will be demographics."
Yet over the last 12 months, the Government has scrapped three important mature age initiatives: Experience Plus Training, On the Job Support and Job Transition Support. The monies saved from these programs were rolled into the Corporate Champions, which aimed to improve older worker retention and workplace productivity.
Monies were also redirected to the Experience+ Mature Age Participation - Job Seeker Assistance Program, which, if it is launched this year, hopes to provide job-hunting skills and basic training for people 50+.
On the Job Support was an excellent program aimed at helping older ‘tradies’ and labourers find new ways to work so they didn’t have to bust their guts in their late 50s and 60s. If you work ‘on the tools’, and you’re over 55, the chances are you’re carrying a work related injury. The idea was to ease them off hard labour and into less physical work. There is no help for these battlers now.
While almost $70m has been allocated to Experience+ and the Corporate Champions, much of this money has not been spent, creating quite a saving for the Government.
The terminated programs were classic examples of failing to implement key initiatives with urgency. How many times have we seen good initiatives go ‘belly up’ because of internecine bureaucratic wrangling, going late to tender or flip-flopping on objectives?
There were around 84 000 mature age people in Job Services Australia and 23 000 mature age people in Disability Employment Services in 2012. Mature age job seekers are strongly represented in Streams 2 and 3. Older job seekers face on average more than 70 weeks on the dole before they find a job. Many never do. According to the ABS (2011), 111,000 mature age workers state that they want, and are available for, more hours than they have. That’s 200,000 mature age people unemployed and under employed over 45!
In 2012, the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation found that physical health and incapacity, discrimination on the basis of age, recruitment practices, and a mismatch of skills and experience with employer demands, were the major barriers to employment for mature age people. Another barrier is the Government’s inability to implement the Experience+ program.
I suggest that 80% of Job Services Australia providers and recruiters know nothing about Experience+. Most businesses have never heard of the Corporate Champions program. What’s the point of creating a program if you don’t promote it?
The 2010 Intergenerational Report suggested that raising the mature age participation rate to 67% by 2049-50 would help address challenges associated with population ageing. Over the past decade, more Australians in there 60s have kept on working. In the year to July 2012, employment among people aged 55 and over surged 3.9%.
This has nothing to do with Government policies and more to do with the ‘cohort effect’. Working Boomers turning 60 have moved in to an age bracket when they used to retire but now they are working on. There has also been a dramatic increase in female workforce participation over the last 20 years.
The seeds of these failures lay in the initial stages of the policy design. The challenge for the Australian Public Service is to turn the Government’s plans and promises in to action. The life of a Government may depend on the public service’s ability to implement the legislative agenda.
As Dr Peter Shergold, the former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and an implementation specialist said on ABC radio, “Poor delivery – such as inadequate service levels, lack of timeliness or burdensome regulatory processes – risks public dissatisfaction. It can reduce trust not only in public service but in the government it serves.”
It’s better for a Government not to have a policy at all, than to announce a policy – often with some fanfare – and then six to 12 months later, the media finds out the implementation has been a fiasco.
Older Australians make substantial contributions to national productivity and through volunteerism. It will be market forces that recognize the Boomers have much to offer and it will be the threat of wage inflation that makes employers snuggle up to the Boomers once again, no thanks to the Government.
About the author
Malcolm King works in generational change. He was an associate director in DEEWR Labour Market Strategy and has worked in higher education and as a journalist. He is the Director of consultancy, Republic