What’s the solution to the pandemic restrictions on immigration creating skills shortages? Employ older Australians. That’s the call from ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott.
Mr Elliott made the plea during a speech in Mildura, a fruit-growing town in regional Victoria, which is experiencing labour shortages due to restrictions on backpackers coming in from overseas.
But the problem is not restricted to manual labour, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reporting that there are currently 57 per cent more job listings than before the pandemic began.
“There were around 362,000 job vacancies in May 2021, which was higher than we have ever seen in Australia. This was 69,000 more than February 2021 and 132,000 more than last February,” says ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis.
“We’ve been in conversations with various elements of government and state in particular, exactly around this issue, around not so much about replacing backpackers, but clearly there are some emerging labour shortages,” Mr Elliott said, as reported by The Australian.
“We’ve got adaptable people with great mindsets and great ways of dealing with people who may have retired or been out of work. How do we get those people back into work?”
Mr Elliott says ANZ has found older workers more effective in customer service roles and better able to empathise with customers in difficulty due to more life experience than younger workers.
He suggests businesses need to lure back prospective older workers who might be hesitant about returning to the workforce in the face of a rapidly changing world, with the shift to a work-from-home culture presenting a unique opportunity.
“The pace of technology change has also meant some people may have left the workforce early,” Mr Elliott says.
“What we found in the data is a lot of people, particularly women, who were older and who had worked in tech in the past, for whatever reason had moved out of the workforce and then somehow felt they weren’t worthy or capable of coming back.
“I suspect that one of the changes that we will experience in the economy will be the way we do things around more working from home, more flexible working, which will mean workers will be more accessible for more people.
“And, certainly, I think that would be true about people who are a little bit older. So, I actually think we’ve probably got more diversity of the workforce as a result of employers biting the bullet on workplace choice.”
But returning to work may not be so easy for many older Australians, with many reporting experiencing ageism in either in the hiring process or the workplace.
A survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) pre-COVID found almost 30 per cent of respondents would be reluctant or unwilling to hire a worker aged over 50. Financial consultancy group Deloitte also conducted a survey of the US market in 2020 and found that almost two-thirds of companies considered older-age people to be a “competitive disadvantage” to their business.
The AHRC advises that workplace age discrimination can take many forms including:
- not employing certain people because they won’t ‘fit in’ with other employees because of their age
- advertising a position for someone aged ‘under 30’ to join a ‘dynamic, young team’
- making choices around redundancy, or forcing someone to retire, because of his or her age
- harassing or bullying a person because of his or her age.
“The ADA (Age Discrimination Act) makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age when advertising jobs; during recruitment and selection processes; when making decisions about training, transfer and promotion opportunities; and in the terms, conditions and termination of employment,” the AHRC advises.
The YourLifeChoices 2021 Insights Survey, conducted in June and July, reveals that more than one in five older Australians plans to work until at least 75, with 11 per cent not planning to retire at all. This suggests an ever-increasing percentage of older-age workers.
And the figures may end up higher than that, with the same survey showing that while about 50 per cent of the 7000-plus respondents expect to retire at 65, more than 50 per cent said they don’t expect to have the money to retire.
A demographic shift would appear to be coming in Australian employment and business.
Are you heartened by the call for businesses to employ older Australians? Have you experienced age discrimination in the workplace or when applying for a job? Why not share your experiences in the comments section below?
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