Opinion: Aussie seniors delivering silver (haired) service

by Contributor09 Nov 2016
John Palfreyman outlines how the contact centre industry has tapped into the mature age workforce - and is reaping the benefits.
 
If you’ve contacted a company via the telephone in the past few years, there is an increasing likelihood that you’d be speaking to an older Australian on the other end of the line.

While the total number of contact centre jobs has contracted during the past decade, the number of older Australians working in contact centres has significantly expanded. At a time when the country’s older workforce participation is significantly lower than the UK, USA, Canada and even New Zealand, contact centres are turning to hire more experienced Australians.

Today around 10% of the 30,000 contact centre workforce is aged over 55, almost half of which are aged over 60[1]. The increase has seen the median age for this industry rise from 24 years old in 2000 to 35 years old today[2].

Big contact centre employers such as financial services companies, and utilities and government organisations are extremely reliant on experienced, professional staff to provide a conduit to their customers. Some 81% of Australians prefer dealing with human beings to solve customer service issues and to get advice[3].

Flexibility a big drawcard
Older Australians are increasingly being drawn to contact centres roles through a willingness to work past the traditional retirement age and the changing nature of contact centre work.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, workplace flexibility is amongst the biggest considerations for a senior worker looking for a new job[4].
This need coincides with changes to contact centre cloud technology which makes it easy to work from the home office or lounge in any region in Australia. The technology means calls can be routed directly to contact centre staff at predetermined times, giving employees more control of their working week. Almost a third of all older workers prefer a part time role[5].

Additional benefits
From a financial perspective, contact centre work can be particularly appealing for older Australians living in regional areas, where employment opportunities can be harder to find. In these communities, senior contact centre workers can earn around 5-10% more than the median income in their area for people of a comparable age.

Aside from financial and flexibility advantages, these roles also offer an additional degree of job security that is not always found in other industries.  Government workforce data shows that long-term job growth for the sector is at 12.75%.

Workforce age discrimination is regrettably not uncommon for older Australians.  The Australian Human Rights Commission for example found that 27% of employees aged 50 years and over had experienced age discrimination in the last two years. Because many contact centre managers specifically recruit more mature employees and invest in their training, workforce age discrimination is less likely to be found in a contact centre workplace.

Experience  drives business benefits
The reason mature workers are so sought after is the benefit to both the business and the customer. For example the NSW Committee on Ageing[6] found evidence that people much prefer to receive financial advice from mature workers than their younger colleagues. Similarly, a management consulting report concluded that mature workers were often better problem solvers, with 86% of people believing that over 50’s workers provide wisdom that is not available from younger staff[7].

Experienced contact centre employees also offer improved workplace stability. Recruitment specialists Hallis found that more mature workers stayed with companies three times longer than those under 30[8].

Conclusion
Changes to contact centres make the industry an increasingly attractive employment option for older Australians. The ability to work part-time from home, job stability and ongoing training, suit the employment needs of many over 55’s.

Just as critically, businesses themselves are benefiting from this ‘grey migration’. Customers appreciate the maturity and experience they bring to the roll, while companies can see the benefit to the bottom line.
 
John Palfreyman is CEO of ipSCAPE Contact John at: john.palfreyman@ipscape.com.au
 
 
 
[6] http://www.maca.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/141527/Counting_on_experience.pdf
[7] Leadership Management Australia, Perception of Older Workers Survey: Older workers not on the scrap heap but hard working, provide wisdom and alleviate pressure, News Release, 7/08/01
[8] Australian Employers Convention, The human resource costs and benefits of an age-balanced workforce, 2001
 
 
 

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