Employers want older workers: research

Ageism subsides

By Kate Southam

New research shows employers were now ready to embrace older workers after decades of ageism.

A Monash University research team led by Professor Philip Taylor surveyed 600 large organisations to find 50 per cent of public sector employers and 40 per cent of private sector employers claim they target workers aged 55 or over when times were tough.

Taylor said the research team had expected the GFC to have exacerbated employer prejudice toward older workers but the opposite was true.

"I have been researching the issue of mature age workers for over 20 years and it is the first time I have seen such interest in older workers," Taylor said.

Taylor warned those employers not yet ready to embrace a multi generational workforce to brace themselves for the consequences.

"They are going to be facing issues of wage inflation by trying to compete with other employers in chasing younger workers or due to the cost of having to import workers," Taylor said.

He said the Monash University research, which would continue for at least another year, was funded by the Australian Research Council, the Queensland Government, the Australian Population Institute and industry groups concerned with the aging workforce.

"We asked employers to tell us where they were recruiting labour from – migrants, women, older workers – in response to labour shortages," Taylor explained.

He said attracting female workers also ranked very highly as an issue for employers while recruiting from overseas was the least favored option.

Taylor said that that while the aging workforce issue "dropped off the radar" during the economic downturn it was now back "with a vengeance" as labour and skill shortages continued to grow.

"Employers we are talking to are very concerned about labour supply," he said.

Alison Monroe is a director of SageCo, a specialist consulting firm that advises large private and public sector organisations on how to tackle the risks posed by the aging workforce.

She said SageCo had seen a significant increase in its business in the last six months as the aging workforce issue had remerged as a major bottom line threat.

Monroe said she had definitely seen a greater willingness amongst employers to hire older workers as well as keep the ones they have now.

"The ageing workforce was an issue five years ago but there just wasn’t the urgency," Monroe said. "Now we are seeing HR professionals put some good metrics behind the case for addressing the issue and there is pressure coming down from board level to see age management plans.

"I had one executive receiving pressure from the board ask me why this had become such a hot issue again. I told him that the workforce continued to age during the GFC so the only thing that really had changed was that boomers were now two years closer to retirement."

According to SageCo, four million baby boomers in Australia would reach retirement age by 2020. Research carried out by Sageco last year dispelling media speculation that boomers would delay retirement because of the hit suffered by super funds during the GFC.

The SageCo survey of 675 workers over 50 found 43 per planned to retire within three years, 84 per cent by 2020 and only 28 per cent were considering delaying retirement due to the GFC.

"What we are encouraging employers to do is to take a balanced approach between retention and recruitment of older workers," Monroe said.

"Employers should not rush out and recruit new older workers without looking to see if they are catering to the ones they have now otherwise their older workers will be leaving out the back door at the same time they are welcoming new ones through the front door," she said.

Article from CareerOne, August 25, 2010.

Related articles you might be interested in reading