By 2031, New Zealand will be home to more than one million people aged 65+, or one in every five people. For the first time ever, there will be more people aged 65 and over than children under 15.
This means the supply of young people entering the labour force is declining, just as the large baby-boom cohort approaches the ‘traditional’ retirement age. The first baby-boomers turned 65 in 2011, with the retirement of many resulting in a reduced labour force supply and skills shortages.
New Zealand has a relatively high level of participation in paid work by older people. While this suggests a certain level of employer willingness to hire and retain older workers, other evidence shows discrimination and barriers still exist.
The importance for the older woman of remaining in the workplace cannot be underestimated. Remaining productive, maintaining social interaction and financial reasons are uppermost, in addition to just enjoying the job.
Challenge myths and change attitudes The talents of older workers risk being wasted due to false assumptions and stereotypes about their skills and performance. Among the most pernicious of these is that older workers cost more, are more prone to health problems, can’t adapt to workplace changes and new technology, perform more poorly than younger workers, and represent a poor return on training investment.
Current and future cohorts of older workers will be healthier and fitter than those of generations past, as well as better educated, more familiar with technology and likely to have longer working lives.
Employers can demonstrate their belief in the value of mature workers by providing exposure to role models that do not fit stereotypes , as well as informing workforces on the business benefits of older workers. These benefits may include older workers’ lower turnover and absenteeism, their reliability, commitment, experience, life experience and people skills – the latter two points are particularly helpful for companies wishing to engage with an ageing and relatively affluent consumer market.
A New Zealand study into hiring discrimination found that recruiters may be more discriminatory than employers, with younger workers seen as more suitable and statistically more likely to be shortlisted. In administration and sales, resumes of workers in their 20s were 6 to 12 times were more likely to be shortlisted as the equivalent resumes of those aged 55+. Some recruiters will not put forward candidates 50+.
Ways for New Zealand to make better use of older workers
Attitude change through education on the realities of the ageing workforce and the best way to manage the resulting issues;
Deconstruct myths that perpetuate negative, ageist stereotypes;
Promote strengths of older workers such as interpersonal and customer service skills, lower turnover rates, reliability and work ethic, experience and knowledge and problem-solving abilities;
Age and diversity training for managers and recruiters, particularly those who are younger;
Recruitment and promotion based on merit, not age;
A lifelong-learning approach to training and development and performance management in the workplace;
Age-appropriate training methods, and content and training that is job-specific;
Job agencies geared to the needs of older workers and staffed by peer group;
Quality jobs – not just low-skill, low-pay work – that also accommodates those older workers who wish to ‘downshift’ in choosing roles with less responsibility;
Working conditions such as flexibility, extended leave and part-time work ;
Raise awareness of older people’s eldercare responsibilities and that they may be assisting in out-of-school care of grandchildren;
Avoid equating older age with poor health, but consider job redesign and the health and safety needs of those who may have health issues but need to keep working;
Wording and placing job advertisements to reach older workers and indicate they will not be excluded on the basis of age, by saying, for example, that older workers welcome or encouraged to apply. When advertising, specifying the experience and competencies required for a role rather than asking for a fixed number of years’ experience.