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A rudderless ship: government's older worker policy

By Malcolm King - posted Thursday, 30 January 2014


It's an irony that recruiters, who are the main perpetrators of age prejudice, produce reports such as 'Coming of Age' by Chandler MacLeod, telling us how bad aged prejudice is. No kidding.

It's obvious that as Australia's population ages and projected revenues drop over the next 20 years, that policy-wise, it makes excellent sense to ensure that the Boomer generation has the capacity not only to work where work is available but to work longer to save for their own retirement.

Unfortunately, there is no guiding hand at the helm of the largest demographic transition in Australia's history.

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Chandler Macleod failed to examine the Productivity Commissions 2013 report 'An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future' or the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation 2012 report on barriers to employment.

These were seminal studies but the Chandler MacLeod report did make one controversial finding: "The surveyed businesses believe the main reason employers are not hiring older workers is that older workers simply aren't applying for the roles advertised."

So it's the older job seekers fault? This is a cracker. Minister's offices, the Department of Employment and the Office of the Age Discrimination Commissioner, are hit by thousands of letters of complaint every year, many with bona fide and actionable claims of age prejudice.

Paradoxically, that's a good sign as ten years ago few people investigated these allegations. But it's also damning evidence of the failure of Government (any government) and its agencies, to educate employers and recruiters about why age prejudice is a human rights issue, and how it is condemning the nation to further debt.

The Commonwealth Government is pouring $55 million in to a raft of programs and initiatives, under the Experience+ suite of programs. The programs aim to ameliorate the social and economic effects of an ageing workforce by the retirement of the Boomers. The Government created the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participationand established the position of Age Discrimination Commissioner, currently filled by Susan Ryan.

I worked for DEEWR in Canberra in this area and enjoyed the camaraderie. I could have done it all from my home office in Adelaide, but I digress. It would have been better throwing the whole $55 million on number 36 black on the Crown Casino roulette table for all the good these initiatives have done or are doing.

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Why? Employers don't know about them. I was told to stop disseminating positive news stories I had gathered from across Australia, about older worker productivity and hires. Why? Beats me. The issue was just starting to get traction. It's harder implementing a policy than creating one. I wandered off in to the area of population dynamics and business planning.

The Government would have been better off running a national campaign against ageist attitudes in recruitment firms (old and young) and channeling the bulk of the money in to long term job creation schemes, which generate incomes in strategic areas such as education (TAFE) and health.

Over the past four years, more than 20 reports and surveys have examined ageing and demographic change in Australia. There are also three large ARC university grants currently researching various aspects of the Boomers ageing in Australia.

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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