Building the wise economy

| May 6, 2015

An aging population is changing the face of the Australian workplace. Andrea Warr shares the age of the Wise Worker and the Wise Economy as part of GAP’s ‘A Vision for Australia’ consultation.

The retirement age is being extended and our life expectancies have risen but perception of the value older workers bring has not caught up.

Aging is inevitable and unlike other forms of discrimination, it doesn’t segregate the community, aging impacts everyone. We harbour our own fears and perceptions of what getting older means and this is projected into the public perception of old people and their growing burden on the economy.  Regardless of anti discrimination policy, age discrimination in employment is real and can often become our own self fulfilling prophecy.

As a career practitioner, I meet many individuals that, at varying ages over forty, lament if there are any real career choices left ahead. I hear the stories of being perceived as too slow to keep up with the changing work environment, endless searching through job boards and blocked access from recruiters and company screening software. I see the lack of purpose and then seeds of diminishing self worth, fear and depression. Compounding the perceived burden on society, government policies for older workers are a school cane or charity approach, restricted access to pension or employer subsidy for hiring an older worker cementing the negative reinforcement.

When life expectancy was 76, many people looked forward to key phases in their lives; school, qualifications, career building and/or adventures, family and asset building and then retirement. While the typical life paths have changed for some people, for the majority similar goals remain. Retirement age is now 70 and life expectancy is predicted at 92 for men and 93 for women in 2050. The reality of sustaining another twenty years financially, mentally or physically without meaningful work is unachievable for many. It doesn’t have to be the reality. There is an opportunity to create a new phase of working life prior to retirement.

We need to create the expectation and possibility of another phase in life to aspire. A vision of an opportunity for individuals to remain valued, with a sense of purpose that has foundations in personal belief, employment practices, demographic serving business, industry standards and government policy. This is the Wise Economy.

But how?

Rebrand the older worker – The Wise Worker
New perception creates new behaviour. The capacity and capability of employees between 50 and 70 has already improved and through improving health, will be vastly different by 2050.  While educating younger generations about the wisdom of older workers is important, the catalyst will be creating a new proposition and belief for 50+ year olds about what they are mentally and physically capable of.

In every generation there are the self determined that will carve out their own path; however this is not the reality for the majority. For many from a linear corporate career, fear of being in a holding pattern until they retire is very real and these people will not adjust well to the changes occurring in corporations and the economy. This belief is what needs to change first.

The rebranding of the older worker to the Wise Worker seeks to engrain their knowledge, value, skills, contribution and possibilities. What if this could be facilitated through the same media channels used for public awareness to create a movement. Use real ambassadors, documentaries, research, intergenerational mentoring and creating new enterprises that walk the talk. An example in the UK using media to create a self valuable and dynamic community over 50 is providing generation relevant news, advice and information.

The tipping point will be when corporations redefine and embrace the value of older workers and society recognises the future economic opportunity rather than the burden.

Create Wise Businesses
Post employment consumer behaviour changes with reduced incomes. With longer working lives comes extended and changing spending habits which are relatively untapped by many industries, such as fashion, fitness, personal services, media, recruitment and technology. The bulk of marketing spend is directed at the 15 to 40+ age bracket, but what happens when the largest customer demographic becomes the Wise Worker.

What if businesses existed to service as well as employ the Wise Economy? Change is often driven through more agile business but what if corporate Australia also redefined the value and contribution of Wise Workers in their organisations?

Assuming there are motivated Wise Workers looking for opportunities, the question is, are those employment options attractive? Traditional employment incentives involve promotion, perks, pay rises and bonuses but what if that’s not a key incentive anymore? What do the Wise Workers want? Recognition and feeling valued? Flexible work arrangements? Knowledge sharing? Age relevant health support? When we can identify what motivates the Wise Worker, we can build businesses that are motivated, productive and retentive.

Investing in a new business model and employment practice needs to bring brand and financial value to an organisation. What if, similar to environmental sustainability and community partnering, businesses were rated and recognised for their investment into the Wise Economy? What if corporations similarly embedded new work practices in order to recognise the value of the Wise Worker? Varying employment policies exist for other life stages such as students and young families. Why not the Wise Worker?

Create Access to the Wise Economy
Build it and they will come. While this would be ideal, awareness and access is required to educate, support and facilitate the potential of the Wise Economy. Opportunities and demand currently exist in community services and aged care services for older workers but one or two sectors does not fit or suit everyone.  A broader range of career paths is needed to accommodate the breadth of skills and knowledge. The community services and age care sectors also focus on the burden of getting older, not the economic and social value add the Wise Worker can bring.

What if there were information and access points from dedicated careers fairs, networking events, consultancies, recruitment platforms, job boards and forums, including new and existing social media platforms providing even the most introverted of people, open access to opportunity and information? What if career practitioners and job centres could provide insight and direction to the Wise Workers with real opportunities that understood and connected with them?

Embed the Wise Economy within the Australian economy
For any social change to last it must become the new normal, propagated through industry and government policy and programs. If the Wise Economy has the potential to alleviate the economic and social burden that by all predictions will impact government spending, demand on health services, quality of life, communities mental and physical health should we not be advocating for a much bigger vision?

We have an opportunity to create a change before the predicted population shift is real. What will drive the change? Where do we start? Who needs to be in the conversation? This is our problem to solve as we will all be a Wise Worker one day.

Andrea Warr is the owner of Olos Careers , a careers practice for individuals seeking career change or career management. She is a Professional member of the Careers Development Assoc of Australia together with over 20 years working experience across career development, human resources and recruitment both in Australia as well as overseas.




  1. Avatar

    Mister Bongo

    May 8, 2015 at 1:14 am

    A thought provoking and
    A thought provoking and timely article. There are many good ideas in here, the problems with implementing them though are huge. There is a churn factor to many businesses caused, in part, by the fact that many older people are on a higher wage. Or at least, a higher wage than the younger workers.
    It’s not a big mental leap to see that businesses will want to lower costs by getting rid of the better paid older workers and using the cheaper younger ones.
    This is augmented by the fact that so many businesses are running so lean and mean that they don’t have the time or resources to do the day to day work, let alone make cultural changes.
    Legislation won’t help. The only real driver for business change is consumer demand. That’s where the education must start.

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    Melinda Jacobsen

    May 6, 2015 at 10:05 am

    So thought provoking and I
    So thought provoking and I love the bit about businesses being ‘rated and recognised for their investment into the Wise Economy’. Great incentive ideas!

    You really have thought this through and, at the same time, give the impression that it’s not a huge, unsolvable challenge. Just that we need to recognise it’s real and will happen to all of us. Well done!!

  3. Avatar

    Lynn Roberts

    May 6, 2015 at 5:30 am

    Hit the nail on the head for
    Hit the nail on the head for this article, brilliant.
    A very important eye opener that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.