Why 55 is the new mid-career: tapping into the mature workforce

In a tight labour market, seeking out mature workers may be the answer

Why 55 is the new mid-career: tapping into the mature workforce

The mid-career candidate has always been highly sought after. The truffle of all employees. Whether in a tight or surplus market, they are the ‘it’ candidate and why wouldn’t they be? Mid-career employees are rich with experience, have years of acquired knowledge, their soft skills finely tuned, and with many years left in their careers. They are the answer to all hiring prayers.

That’s the conclusion of Roxanne Calder, managing director of recruitment specialist, EST10.

Overlay our current labour shortages, with an unemployment rate at 3.5%, a 48-year low, Australia is experiencing the second most severe labour shortage in the developed world.

“If you believe mid-career candidates are 35 years plus, this requires re-examination. HR departments and recruiters need to put aside their bias, subconscious or even prejudice and welcome 55-year-olds, because they are the new mid-career champions,” says Calder.

Times are changing

The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines mature workers as those employed aged 45 to 64 years.

But much has changed. For a start, in 1970, life expectancy used to be 71 years and now it is 83 years. The average intended retirement age in 2014-15 was 65.1 years, up from 62.3 years in 2004-05 and close to a quarter of us (22.6%) with no intention of retiring until 70 years plus. As workforce tenure extends, so does the median bracket, aligning at mid-50. For the first time in our working history, Australia has five generations working together and a 55-year-old, from Gen X, sits right in the middle, opening an alternate spectrum to view and source talent.

Blinkers on

In February 2020, employees aged 55 years and above held 19.4% of the total labour force, an increase from 10.5% in February 1980 which is obviously a move in the right direction. But the reality is that this age group is largely overlooked in the job market.

Even with record low unemployment rates, if someone loses their job past 50, they will struggle to gain employment. A survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) shows discrimination is highest among the ages of 55 to 64 years. One in five Australians in this group claim that age is a major barrier to finding a job or getting more hours of paid work and a third (33%) of gave up looking for work.

Deterred by stereotypes

Negative stereotypes and assumptions about mature age workers persist and are the reason why many employers discount them at the hiring stage. The AHRC calls out the myths supporting these views. Firstly, that mature workers will cost the business more for their experience; secondly, that they will be prone to health problems and thirdly, that there is no long-term benefit to training and developing these workers.

Research shows there is no difference between older and younger workers, and scientific evidence shows ‘for most people, raw mental horsepower declines after the age of 30, but knowledge and expertise, the main predictors of job performance, keep increasing beyond the age of 80’.

“Apart from skills, proficiency and experience, mature workers have been around the block a few times. They know the potholes to steer clear of, the corners to cut safely, and the quickest route. They build relationships and have developed networks, knowing who and what to ask. Problem-solving is more often viewed as a team-based exercise not a solo stress and seen as just another day in the office,” says Calder.

Longevity in jobs is also highest among our older workers, six years eight months compared to two years eight months for those 25 to 35 years. Consider the cost to train, hire, recruit and onboard and, in today’s market, the prolonged empty seat. Suddenly, high job mobility becomes a business risk to avoid.

“The word mature is hardly appealing or attractive. For most, it conjures up images of being old and not keeping up with the times. It is time to rethink our perception,” says Calder.

“The reality is mature means being fully developed or advanced. What business won’t benefit from that level of expertise or state of being on their team? Especially underpinned by a market bereft, desperate for any glimpse of talent.”

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