Opinion: Is your workforce future-proof?

by External23 Apr 2015
Why are Australian employers still ignoring the enormous benefits mature age workers can bring to business? Samuel Day delves into the debate recently sparked by the Government's Intergenerational Report.
 
It’s no secret that Australia’s population and workforce is ageing rapidly, with recent projections from the Government’s Intergenerational Report citing the number of Australians aged 65 and over to more than double over the next 40 years[1].
 
At the same time, Australians will live longer, while the participation rate for people aged over 15 years is projected to fall. All signs point towards a rapidly shrinking supply of skilled and readily available workers for Australian businesses.
 
Demographic change is happening and business leaders and HR directors need to start thinking about ways to future-proof their workforce including: identifying what your future workforce will look like; undertaking an analysis of what future skills and competencies would be required and where the projected gaps are; and then devising an action plan to develop, retain or transfer those skills. One core element of this action plan should focus on how to tap into the mature age sector and encourage experienced workers to remain in employment longer.
 
Benefits of mature-aged workers
The Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, commissioned an online survey last year, which found that a significant number of business decision makers would not recruit anyone over the age of 50 due to negative stereotypes such as a dislike of change, forgetfulness and unwillingness to take instructions from someone younger[2].
 
In reality, these stereotypes are broad generalisations that are often far from the truth. In fact, there are some very good reasons for businesses to attract and retain a cohort of skilled mature-age workers:
 
  • Knowledge: older workers have often accumulated a wealth of knowledge, experience and skills during their time in the workforce, which are valuable assets to business
  • Desirable traits: they are generally highly dependable and committed with more life experience and wisdom
  • Established networks and external experiences: assets which also add value to business
  • Workplace training and mentoring: mature-age workers’ wealth of knowledge and experience are valuable resources in workplace training and mentoring programs, helping businesses save costs on staff development and knowledge transfer
  • Matching profiles with customer base: as the population ages, mature age employees will increasingly reflect the profiles of your customer base, allowing them to better empathise with and meet the needs of customers.
 
Attracting and retaining older workers
There are a number of strategies that businesses can employ to increase the retention rates of workers over the age of 50 and encourage them to work beyond the traditional age of retirement.
 
  • Age-friendly practices: create an age-friendly workplace by ensuring your organisation has policies in place to eliminate stereotyping and discrimination against older employees
 
  • Family-friendly and flexible work practices: older workers often have more commitments around extended family and caring for others. Giving them access to flexible work arrangements can encourage them to stay in the workforce longer. These can be offered in various forms including:
  • Scaling back to part-time positions or job-sharing
  • Flexible work hours adjusted to allow older employees to honour outside commitments and still contribute to the business
  • Working remotely
  • Working as a consultant (potentially even post-retirement)
 
  • Role swapping: providing older workers with the option of transferring to a role with reduced pay and reduced responsibilities will help organisations retain corporate knowledge and skills while giving the employee a less-demanding job
 
  • Phased retirement: help your valued mature-age workers stay with the business longer by working with them to set up a customised phased-retirement plan, which gradually reduces their working time or workload over an agreed period
 
  • Training and up-skilling: provide training to up-skill older workers and help them maintain relevant skills to meet the requirements of the workplace and keep up with the pace of change
 
  • Pre-retirement career planning: speak to employees as they enter their early 50s and map out the next decade of their working life. Work with them as they revaluate their priorities and any changes in lifestyle needs.
 
Skills shortages and a shrinking workforce is a tangible reality. And businesses that fail to retain mature-age employees are at risk of losing valuable knowledge, experience and skills. However, demographic change brings with it both challenges and opportunities and HR directors and businesses leaders can make it work by future-proofing our workforces today.
 
About the author
Samuel Day is the Managing Director of Happening People. Happening People provides organisational development strategies and people management consultancy to Australia’s leading businesses and executive leaders.

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