What role can older Australians play in today’s society? According to Assistant Minister for Health, Ken Wyatt, one of the biggest challenges we face is learning how best to support Australians as they grow older.
In his opinion piece, Older Australians – An Untapped Wealth of Wisdom, released yesterday, Mr Wyatt suggests that older Australians possess vital skills and experience and ensuring the advancement of society means “tapping into their brains” and making the most of their knowledge.
“Most have been working for decades and deserve a well-earned break. But then – let’s draw on their skills, their wisdom and get them back into the workforce,” he says.
In March last year former treasurer Joe Hockey stated that older workers are the key to Australia’s economic growth, and discrimination against mature workers is holding the nation back from its full economic potential.
“To safeguard our way of life, we must maintain our incomes and keep people in jobs. In short, we need to keep the economy growing. One of the key drivers of long-term growth is widely recognised as having more people in the workforce,” Mr Hockey said.
Mr Wyatt suggests that Australian society “cannot afford to lose” the wisdom often lost when older people leave the workforce. He says older people “make excellent staff members” because they have developed character traits such as “patience, resilience, humility, and good humour in difficulties” that can only be learned over time. Importantly, “they listen, learn and mentor”.
In many Asian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, elders are held in high esteem for their ability to pass on vital knowledge and skills to the younger generations. This idea, Mr Wyatt says, should be brought “to the broader Australian society” and used as a foundation to increase the participation of older workers in the workforce, as well as grow Australia’s economy.
CEO of aged care provider IRT Group, Nieves Murray, says that age should not hinder people from accessing services or participating in social or public life.
“Often when they leave the workforce, or their children and grandchildren move on, older people feel they’ve lost their purpose. Its untapped potential…Age-friendly communities and social inclusion reinvigorate people and give them a sense of worth,” says Ms Murray.
Mr Wyatt says that society needs to change its perspective of how to value older workers.
“This has to be a joint effort across society, from all levels of governments and employer organisations – including developing comprehensive strategies around the right retirement income policies, including super and pensions; readdressing incentives to early retirement; and providing job search and placement support for older job seekers.”
Read more at australianageingagenda.com.au
We see the same thing happen time and time again. Ken Wyatt, like many politicians before him, has made the call for greater inclusion of older Australians in the workforce. What’s more, he has rightly stated that this inclusion can only be achieved if sound policies and comprehensive strategies are put into place to support it.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says it will take a mature worker in Australia more than one year, or an average of 70 weeks, to find employment. This is mainly due to the ageist attitude towards older workers. According to the AHRC one in 10 businesses say they would not recruit a new employee who was over the age of 50.
Currently, 70 per cent of Australian retirees receive a full or part Age Pension, costing the government $48 billion per year. By 2055 it is estimated the percentage of Australians on the pension will still be at 67 per cent. With the 1 January 2017 pension changes looming, it makes sense that our government wants to see older Australians remain in, or seek, employment, in order to fund their own retirement.
Last March, Joe Hockey called for older workers to remain in the workforce. The Government’s Restart program, announced in the 2014 Budget, was aimed to assist 32,000 older Australians to return to work by paying their employers $10,000 so long as they stayed for at least 12 months. But the program only saw around 3000 older workers returning to employment – obviously well short of projections. So even with Government incentives, the culture of employing older people has not changed. So, what are older Australians supposed to do? What else can the Government do?
It is plain to see that we require fundamental changes to the attitudes of employers before we see a change in the culture of employing older people – and such a paradigm shift would be a very long-term proposition.
Mr Wyatt has recognised a problem and identified the methods by which it can be solved. Let’s just hope that his department can deliver and follow through on some concrete policies, to ensure better employment opportunities and retirement incentives for older workers.
What do you expect will come of Ken Wyatt’s proposal? What kinds of policies could the government implement that would benefit older working Australians? Are you currently seeking work to fund your retirement? Have you experienced age discrimination in the workplace?
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