Age diversity is good for business

| August 21, 2019

It is my pleasure to introduce the final report from Global Access Partners’ strategic Roundtable on ‘Productive Ageing: Leveraging the Value of an Age-Diverse Workforce for SMEs’, released yesterday.

The Roundtable was convened on 6 June with the support of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and the GAP Standing Committee on Productive Ageing, building on many years of stakeholder consultations and research on the commercial benefits of mature-age employment.

Data suggests that hiring and retaining mature-age workers can reduce absenteeism, improve productivity, fill skill and knowledge gaps, and contribute to innovation and improvements in business processes. A company which welcomes mature-aged workers is seen as a more attractive employer to a growing proportion of the Australian workforce.

The GAP Roundtable sought the business sector’s views on key barriers and drivers of mature-age workforce participation in Australia. It also explored ways in which current government subsidies and support for SMEs could be better targeted to encourage the recruitment and retention of workers over 50.

Participants acknowledged the best-practice of companies such as Bunnings regarding older employees, and the value of support initiatives such as the Australian Government’s ‘More Choices for a Longer Life’ package and NSW Government’s Business Connect.

However, they also highlighted significant challenges to mature-age participation, reinforcing the points made at an earlier GAP conference on productive ageing held six years ago.

The Roundtable agreed that employer attitudes are the largest barrier to mature-age recruitment, rather than the need for reskilling. While the social consensus around the value of productive ageing exists, it has not been reflected in business practices and so fresh approaches are urgently required.

Longer life expectancy will force more Australians to work for longer, and while mature-age workers have a high rate of employment, data suggests that they can struggle to find new posts as employers prefer younger recruits.

Barriers to mature-age recruitment by SMEs include age discrimination, misleading stereotypes, a perceived mismatch of older workers’ skills with new industry demands, a lack of flexible working arrangements, age-based rules in government regulations and concerns about older workers’ health.

Challenges of mature-age employment include employers’ lack of experience of working with older people and poor understanding of their value. Complex and overlapping regulations regarding discrimination, employment, superannuation, insurance and workers compensation can also make it difficult for SMEs to comprehend and comply with their legal obligations.

Flexible workplace conditions, including job-sharing, part-time work and working from home, can benefit both employers and employees, and businesses should adopt an age-inclusive approach to job design and improve intergenerational communication.

Roundtable participants agreed that cultural change is required to encourage and empower more people to stay at work for longer. Calls for greater coordination of existing schemes and stronger messaging were balanced by doubts over their effectiveness, but participants agreed to continue to work on these issues in the future.

Government and industry must collaborate to reduce age discrimination in workplace and recruitment practices to benefit the nation, the economy and individuals.