The “untapped wealth of wisdom” of older workers

Older workers possess vital skills and experience for Australia’s future.

The “untapped wealth of wisdom” of older workers

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.”


Opinion: Time and time again

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?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    4th Feb 2016
    A central issue, systematically ignored, is the inclusion of the elderly in the Governance of areas that affect them. Not because the are in their 70s, but because they are excellent individuals on all other grounds for such councils etc AND are in their 70s. being half way to the next decade, I have really noticed this political under representation-and as far as I can see the same seems to apply even to aged associations-its critical. A fund link on this governance angle is here:

    4th Feb 2016
    There is a lot of sense in the above article, but I VERY doubt if the government has the SLIGHTEST intention to even giving it a thought. People over the age of, let's say, 60 are more apt to be taken advantage by the government than anyone else. Why? - because they have saved, have assets, for the most part have been honest with the government about paying taxes (the old "work ethic" thing), etc and are less apt to
    4th Feb 2016
    (Oops! Continued from above) argue about changes in legislation which will adversely affect them. This government knows this, has records of where money is and finds it easier to take from these people while giving more tax breaks to the REAL money earners who are also contributors to the political party.
    Oldman Roo
    5th Feb 2016
    Fast Eddie , You are 100 % correct . I have heard this kind of talk from Government for more than 20 years and nothing positive was ever done and , by now I think it will continue to be talk and wishful thinking .
    Unless employers are given quotas on employing a percentage of people over 60 there is no other way to change the sad reality of the real world in employment . Not to forget that in a number of cases that I know of the elderly have found it too complicated to enter into part time work or some part time self employment due to the complicated Centrelink regulations .
    4th Feb 2016
    It is a furphy , if you are in your 40s/50s , you hold onto your job because if you leave you will battle to get another. The young ones too battle like hell to get a job. Some employers have put people off in their early 60s, and they cant get another , they cant get a pension, and they battle to get the dole.
    4th Feb 2016
    Many senior Australians are already setting a good example to us for what may be the answer. How to succeed in adjusting to the new style of "retirement".

    As always, we need to move with the times and adapt. Many have already changed for the better by setting up a business from home. The key is to be inventive and find a low impact way to earn a few dollars which will not need much physical effort. That way, we can continue well into our old age.

    So maybe the Government can do the right thing by us seniors and offer some financial incentives to encourage this sort of self help solution. It's a win-win all round. Government could offer income tax reduction for income earned below an income threshold. Or they could exempt a higher amount of income from affecting existing pensions.

    In addition we benefit from better health because we have a worthwhile occupation. The bills are paid and most of all we feel we are being more useful in our advancing years.

    If anyone reading this wold like to see this approach I am willing to set up a petition to Government to get things moving.
    4th Feb 2016
    what a load of garbage mate
    you have no idea of what your going on about
    thresholds are only there to catch you out and make you pay .
    just read my post above and have a think please before you let your stomach rumble on here.
    4th Feb 2016
    Very kind of you, BrianP, but I think it would be a waste of time, and this is not a defeatist attitude, but one acquired from seeing what has happened (or NOT happened) again and again in the past. You stated "the government COULD", and, yes, they probably "could", but they won't because they are only interested in themselves and their high-earner party mate-contributors. The ordinary Age Pensioner is an easy target to filch money from and it is open season year around. Again, it is VERY admirable for you to offer, but years of fuelled and seasoned cynicism makes me think your labours would be in vane. Thanks, mate. And, good luck.
    4th Feb 2016
    They already do. You can receive a superannuation pension untaxed and earn another $32 000 before paying tax. Then there will be deductions for the cost of business.

    Don't forget the transition to retirement option also.

    I suspect those with post graduate degrees and great computer skills are doing okay as are technicians and skilled trades people.

    If you are receiving a super pension and earnings from a business then a government pension would be unnecessary and probably unavailable as you are self employed.
    4th Feb 2016
    Brian give it a go. let's you run your own petition.
    8th Feb 2016
    Brian, have you noticed that retirees on an aged pension can earn a fortnightly amount from personal endeavour without it affecting their pension, but ONLY if the employer is a third party? If they start a business and work to earn a little, they suffer discrimination. How is that fair?
    4th Feb 2016
    Just like Joe Hockey before, these are just words - to please the retired and about-to-be-retired in the hope of gaining votes in the next election. Action speaks louder than words.
    4th Feb 2016
    Mr Wyatt is probably more worried about his own future employment post election.
    4th Feb 2016
    this article is really spooky as i was about to get on my soap box about the same thing
    i have a lifetime of management experience in my own business and for 20 yrs as an opps director. i couldn't get a job at 50. i'm now 70.
    from the age of 55. overqualified for the position said all the letters (over 70) which translated means you have so much experience i'll make myself redundant if i employ you.
    the amount you are allowed to earn before the govt takes most of your earnings off you as in centrelink and tax. is woeful and obviously not researched by anyone just a number plucked from thin air.what's left is still way below the poverty line.
    if you for whatever reasons live in a housing commission property( not all tenants are single mothers and bogans) in addition to the government's grab for your wages housing will take 25% of the GROSS earn as extra rent and any gross wage over about $100 per week will mean you earn too much to have a housing place (despite the fact that in a few year/months you will need one again). and you will be evicted or have to pay what housing call market rent which for what you get(or don't get) is grossly inflated
    in my case i was lucky enough to have all the attributes the rideshare company UBER requires and took up uber driving but because of the restraints imposed by the govt can only earn a small amount before i would be persecuted (tax dept centrelink and housing) and loose my home however Uber being a business i can turn it into a business and for centrelink tax and housing i have to do a set of accounts and submit it to the tax office( to date this has cost over $2000) and ongoing annually with abn gst registration etc and then the housing rule no businesses ot be run from their property or you evicted..
    fortunately Uber is email and mobile so i might win this battle but it's costing me.
    now let's talk about deeming of interest.. im getting 2 % on what little money i have at the moment but govt is deeming over 5%.
    so if these nuts in charge of my life really want to help and get people back to or staying in the workforce they need to come and have a talk with us (and put more of us in positions where we would be heard and have a say in our future) and get the co operation of the other govt depts. all this shit from this parliamentarian is just window dressing
    lets not forget the best brains are either in prison or on a benefit
    i fear for what future i have as i'm increasingly unable to challenge the authorities and the level of understanding and co operation from the "" ive got a job and i'm keeping it" brigade is appalling.
    ok off soap box now cheers b
    4th Feb 2016
    The current maximum deeming rate is 3.25% for singles with $48,600+ and couples with $80,600+. Get your facts correct.
    4th Feb 2016
    Recognise your strengths and market them.I am over 70 and work one day a week doing wages, tax and a set of books for a small business, I do the things that management has no time for or interest in, keeps my brain active , gives me a small income, love life
    4th Feb 2016
    SO, as i noted earlier.
    Do something about it I have just had a concise, engaged and effective chat with Minister Wyatts' office (Morgan was the party fronting it). There is a reasonable chance Ill hear back from them on the governance issue at least, as i gave them precise evidence and a key single point to respond to. Lets see.
    As stated earlier home or startup business are useful ways of the elderly getting into the active mode..there is a great body called SeniorTrepeurs in Victoria targeted at assisting and networking older people startups.Worth talking to!
    4th Feb 2016
    I agree we need to access abilities from older workers, but we also need to train younger people to move up in the work force. At the moment we have an enormous number of unemployed people who are not able to get experience because companies want people with experience but not older people. Seems like things can't go on for much longer especially as many of the positions that the younger ones might be able to learn have gone over seas so what are the top dogs going to do to solve the problem and it is a big one. I am almost 76 and have worked with the unemployed younger generation and have seen the results of a Men's Wear Shop" requiring a young man to have a Higher School Certificate I think that is laughable, would it be so difficult to sell Shirts and Trousers,
    4th Feb 2016
    Looks like im median age here (74). I do a great deal of voluntary and unpaid work for students at universities, and have done for many years. However it is all to obvious-and increasingly so- that this is not valued by the universities (although greatly valued y the students, esp the postgraduate ones). its a bit like the survey about grandparent being expected to do far more childcare than they want(or can manage0 and getting no recognition for it.. interesting survey. Its another case of Free==Not Valued.. the (largely) Boomers selfish culture rides over all!
    4th Feb 2016
    Not sure if the Boomers were that selfish MRw

    Wages rose from the late 50s all through the 60s and into the early 70s. Just when the boomers were starting work there was the beginning of the drop in wages equality. This has continued for the whole of their working lives.

    Those with post graduate degrees did okay. The rest earned very little when you consider the high interest rates paid on mortgages and the rampant inflation of the 80s.

    I'll agree the 90s were good but no better in real terms than the 60s.

    Then since 2005 trillions have been wiped away from savings of the boomers. It has been the biggest transfer of wealth from everyone to a very few in the history of the world.

    If you are mentoring students that is great but don't expect the universities to care. They are simply money making machines these days.

    One of the great tragedies is the destruction of our education system through ideology that insists private everything works best. Unfortunately education is one of the public goods that is more productively supplied by government and one of the important components of a strong economy and society.
    The current failure to develop even basic numeracy and literacy skills, in many students, will limit our future success I'm afraid.
    4th Feb 2016
    I tend to agree, that aged people are expected to work for nothing, in return for getting the aged pension, or just to give them something to do so they don't get depressed. The work of people who have spent a lifetime learning new skills can be truly undervalued. If you are likely to have any aging diseases, then you get tossed out.
    4th Feb 2016

    Well said. The Baby Boomers provided the drive and energy to propel Australia into the 21 st century only to have it stripped away by politicians who put the vested interests of the elites before the interests of all Australians.

    The current crop (or should that be gaggle) of politicians have no vision for the future of this country. All they go on with is platitudes and motherhood statements, no real plans.
    4th Feb 2016
    Try to tell these things to employers and there is usually a different way of looking at it. Especially when oldies favour casual positions and shorter working hours

    Employers want full time people, they don't want to be bothered with people who need to work shorter hours. Also the unions see it as a way of undermining the system and putting full time employees out of a job.
    When there is a casual position advertised, it is very often a trial for a person they want to employ later in a full time position, so they are not going to be searching for oldies.
    There is an attitude that once you reach 65 you have safe income with the age pension and shouldn't be competing with people whose dole is conditional.
    Try to get some of the low skilled jobs when you have high skills and qualifications? The chances are you have less chance than anybody else. All of the families are out there trying to get their kids some work experience and a start in life, you have had your chance, just go away. Furthermore everybody seems to be a "professional" these days right down to the street sweeper. You need this colour card and that colour card and if the computer doesn't give your application a match, then you are not considered. I don't think employees are prepared to go through the applications and see what skill base they have, they just want an instant match.

    In general I think that if you are aged, you need to stay in your job as long as possible, the chances of being re-employed after retirement are very slim.

    4th Feb 2016
    This government couldn't deliver a newspaper, and this guy's hot air should be directed at maintaining the status quo or increasing pensions of Age Pensioners who don't want to work, instead of making them do so because of a greedy, incompetent government wanting more money to waste. This is just another bloody ploy for increased government revenue. He couldn't care any less about the aged generation and is as selfish as the rest of them in a government position.
    4th Feb 2016
    There a couple of ways at looking at older people staying in the workforce.

    When older people retire, knowledge and skills gained over a life time are lost. The continued employment of older workers ensures that knowledge and those skills are retained.

    On the other side of the equation, if older people remain at work beyond the normal retirement age, it causes a bottleneck for younger workers to move through the hierarchy. It means that work opportunities for younger people decrease. It may even prevent young people gaining employment in certain fields.

    Retaining older workers would be determined by the nature of the work. Workers like the Honourable Member, sitting in Parliament does not cause the same physical wear and tear that a lifetime brick laying does. The brick layer might be willing to work until he is 70 but his body might well disagree. Unfortunately, as we get older we may develop chronic health problems that may put other workers at risk, particularly where manual labour is part of the job. As we age, our reflexes are not a quick as they used to be.

    Then there are older workers would fail to keep up with technological and new changes to work practices, just as there are younger workers who are disinterested in upskilling. Some people, no matter their age, are happy to plod along.

    While older people have a greater fund of knowledge and more skills because they have lived longer, young people can bring energy and openness to new ideas and new ways of doing things into the work world.

    There needs to be a balance. To force people to remain in the workforce may save taxpayer dollars but at what cost. Do we really want to see workers in their 70s and 80s put up scaffolding on thirty story buildings or using professional knowledge that went out of use 40 years ago? Do we want younger people kept out of the workforce until they are in their 30s? Starting work at 30 means they will be on lower wages and this has a knock on effect.This means they will have less time to accrue superannuation and have less when they eventually retire

    There needs to be consideration where a person who wants to work and they a physically and mentally able to work they should be allowed to do so, but if health reasons prevent them from working they should be able to retire.

    And after 45 plus years of working, some of us have just had enough.
    4th Feb 2016
    Having retired for a year (I'm 68) I was speaking to a head teacher. I said I had done 50 years in the Motor trade and would like to volunteer to teach mechanics on a part time basis.
    He said "Do you have a teaching certificate" NO.
    Have you taught before.,yes on a shop floor environment.
    Ah,sorry you have to go to teacher training college first.
    O well I did ask.
    4th Feb 2016

    Set up a private training course please.
    I would love to learn how to check tyre pressure and change a tyre. Basic car maintenance etc. So many people today simply have no idea of even how to check the oil or what oil to use. resetting the clock can be tricky. I've actually worked out these things but it would have been great to do a basic course. Often community colleges will set it up for you if you come up with a decent plan. Find a teacher to help you write up the submission in the correct jargon. You won't need teaching qualifications.
    4th Feb 2016
    Thanks Rae for the idea,I'll look into it
    4th Feb 2016
    I left school at almost 16 and worked for almost 19.5 years in a Victorian state government instrumentality and then 24 years for a government department that reported to Treasury aka Mr Joe Hockey, without a break in service which I think is not bad going for a female who had 3 children along the way. When I got close to 50, I was treated like I was old and therefore past it in terms of ability and pushed into a corner doing mundane work and then whacked for not producing vast volumes of processing documents. Mr Hockey's statements are almost laughable and he was just paying lip service as far as I am concerned. I left the workforce almost two years ago on a redundancy.
    4th Feb 2016
    I actually find it scary that most of the public service that knew anything at all about economic management have been made redundant and bright young report writers raised on chicago school ideology have taken their place. I don't laugh at those statements but shudder. Morrison is very scary indeed though as he truly believes the nonsense.
    5th Feb 2016
    We all understand the need to bring younger people into an organisation as there will be natural attrition, but it is a little hard to digest when the said younger people are employed at a higher rate of pay because they attended university, and have "quals" (Their terminology, not mine).

    These same young grads are the ones who display no compassion or empathy towards older staff and expect them to work at a rate comparable to slave labour, rate their performance and have no qualms about talking to them threateningly and when they deem them to old to know anything, throw them on the scrap heap.

    Older managers who knew you did not treat you this way.
    4th Feb 2016
    I am waiting to see/hear how the department of education is intending to keep teachers in the classroom who will be 69 before they can get the OAP. Speaking from experience it is exhausting,stressful and there is little support given to "older" teachers by their younger counterparts who have a tendency to view anybody over 50 as a dinosaur.....
    4th Feb 2016
    They won't be able to. They will burn out way before 69. Fortunately most have decent compulsory superannuation and so will not need a OAP unless by some bad luck or marriage failure.
    Baby Huey
    4th Feb 2016
    The Government, not only the present government but previous governments, can BS all day about the value of older workers and how they, the Government are doing everything they can to recruit and retain older workers. Thy spruik that they older workers back in the workforce longer so they can save on the pension. The Government is simply lying. They will not tell the Australian public that according to the ABS the unemployment rate for over 55s is currently about 65%. The Government will not advertise that if you are over 65 you cannot get Newstart or be part of any of the unemployment programs. The only way a person over 65 can get into one the government's failed employment programs such as restart is to be on a pension or benefit. What if the person is not eligible or does not want the pension? Centrelink will tell him he is out of luck.
    Age discrimination against older workers is endemic. Yes, it is against the law. However, a read of the exemptions in the Age Discrimination Act 2004 will reveal how ineffective the Act is. The exemptions allow Government departments like Centrelink to age discriminate at will. The purpose of the Act is to educate and conciliate. The Act does have the power to impose sanctions or impose fines. It is the weakest of all the antidiscrimination acts.
    The Australian Human Rights Commission has produced some very good reports on age discrimination against older workers. Governments both past and present have ignored the reports and ignored the problem.
    Age discrimination against older workers is the Elephant in the Room. If Governments keep ignoring age discrimination against older workers while at the same time attempting to screw down the pension and taxing superannuation they may find themselves being stomped on and dumped on at ballot box.
    I have voted conservative for the past 25 years, worked hard, paid my taxes, and tried to save for a retirement. I am 70 and are willing, able, and capable of working for a few more years to ensure my family and I have a reasonably comfortable retirement. I have been a conservative voter for the past 25 years. However, the treatment I have recently received from Centrelink and the zero help received from my local member I will most likely be voting informal at the next election.
    4th Feb 2016
    Unemployed older workers get a lot of lip service, but not much in the way of paid employment. It looks like employers are not interested in what the oldies have to offer. Until employers' mindset changes, I doubt that anything will change for the better.
    5th Feb 2016
    jobs to the younger is cool as long as the older who then can't get jobs have enough to live on and i'm not talking about 30% below the official poverty line .. affluent australia should be ashamed about how they treat the aged and infirm. it's a disgrace that older people cant keep cool or warm because they can't afford the electricity and occasionally eat pet food to survive.. no caviar,cayman island accounts or limos for the aged mr turnbull

    4th Feb 2016
    Firstly, the Government is pushing for aged employment & is probably the worst offender.
    Secondly, is it not more important to give the few existing jobs to the youngest employees
    5th Feb 2016
    Great comments on this - one of the most informative I've read with very few derogatory remarks when people do not agree. Many thanks all!
    5th Feb 2016
    It's a shame the maggots in Canberra will never read or understand any of these all very constructive posts.I don't believe a word that comes out of their blood sucking mouths.Most of them are not qualed for the job they do but they get voted to lead us how bloody sick is that.god help Australia
    6th Feb 2016
    Please don't call Bill Short man a maggot, he is a fine upstanding man.

    5th Feb 2016
    I'll believe it when I see it!
    6th Feb 2016
    It is also worth mentioning that people of pensionable age also grew up when it was normal to have a work ethic. After all, we grew up in an era of "No workee, No eatee!" I am 80 y.o. but because Centrelink refuses to pay me the pension I had earned and paid for, I am in Asia where age is respected for the wealth of experience we have gained. I still work when I can find it. It might be hard, but I have dignity and my self-respect.
    toot2000 (Sydney)
    6th Feb 2016
    Anyone over 50 applying for a job these days has Buckleys chance of getting one. Nobody will hire an older worker, just ask around your older friends, if you've got a nice car and a good driving record, you might be lucky with Uber, otherwise forget it. You will have to start your own business if you can.
    6th Feb 2016
    My father started as a meter reader and ended up in a supervisory accounting position with very little secondary education. The days when you could leave school and work your way up are over so all the young people of today who are dreamers and thinkers who cant cope with the thought of doing years of tertiary education (now a source of revenue) will be lost and replaced with people sitting around telling everyone how many degrees they have and don't bother about offering ideas to someone with a degree in an area you don't have one, they'll tell you to go and do three years at uni before you can have the privilege lol. After nearly forty years in a design related field (winning a couple of notable awards) with no degree as they were basically non existent back in the day I was coming across younger "qualified" people who thought I was inferior. After receiving a package I did an English teaching course, nearly had a position but was told in the end they could not give me the position because I needed a bachelor level (any) qualification. Gave up and now doing volunteer work and planning on heading to Asia when 65 where you are still visible and treated with at least some respect.
    6th Feb 2016
    I can confirm personally that the ageism of Australian employers is staggering. I was then already at 55 very genuinely overqualified, and even more so now at 74 with multiple recent degrees. Iverseas multinational agencies have been happy to employ me but in Australia... Perhaps they are just scared of us? That isn't as silly as it sounds for several reasons I won't bother you with here. I did attempt to contact minister start but even the promised reply email has of course never come ..
    6th Feb 2016
    Vote independent.
    ex PS
    8th Feb 2016
    I'm thinking that the ideal amount of work available to the older workforce will be set at the cut off figure for the full pension. Then once their is a decent take up of "Veteren Workplacement" the arguement will be made to increase the age at which pensions are made available because people are choosing to work longer.
    Of course this strategy will not take into account the many honest hard working Australians who have slogged it out performing essential backbreaking manual type jobs that have literally destroyed their bodies and left them unable to work and looking forward to a well earned rest.
    Young Master Wyatt will probably stay in politics all his life and therefore never do an honest days work in his life. Another example of a young inexperianced worker telling everyone else how to get the job done.
    Untill he has spent time in a real job working for for someone outside the family , I wouldn't consider him to be qualified to advise anyone on workplace strategies.

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