With labour shortages in Australia exasperating employers and nipping at company turnovers, employers are waking up and tapping into a labour pool which is ready and brimming with the soft and hard skills to take on any challenge.
Think Robert De Niro in the film The Intern who’s reluctantly embraced by young internet fashion mogul Jules Ostin played by Anne Hathaway. DeNiro’s character Ben Whittaker, 70, ultimately guides her to self-belief and success while also saving her marriage and surrogate grandfathering her kid.
“Hire aged workers,” insists entrepreneur, business mentor, and CEO Sharon Williams. “There is so much untapped resource out there, so get them back to work. They’re wise, patient, and clever.”
Sharon has been a force in PR and marketing for nearly 30 years as the founder and head of Taurus. She also mentors budding entrepreneurs through her Taurus training academy, making her an expert in finding, growing, and keeping talent.
While Australia may have a reputation of embracing the youthful, shiny, and new, Sharon says by harnessing an older workforce we’ll circumvent the labour crisis while providing opportunities for those who want back into the workspace.
“I have about six mature contractors who work with me and I absolutely love them. I appreciate their wisdom and honour. They have those values that we want to hold onto- like loyalty, care, stoicism, and speed of reaction. Their wisdom is there for the taking!”
“Mature workers are opinionated, quick, fast, and furious – and I love that,” quips Sharon.
Any worker over 50 is classified as “mature”. The Australian Human Rights Commission says workplaces are reporting they have a more mature workforce than ever before, with more than 20% of employees over 50.
New data confirms that retirees are re-entering the job market to fill a desperate need for talent. National Seniors Australia says 16 percent of age pensioners have returned to paid work since retiring, while another 20 percent are considering it.
Money is the main motivator, although the trend can also be attributed to wanting to stay active, contribute, have fun and stay social.
Peter Louw, 75, was a dentist who owned his own practice in western Sydney for 33 years. He retired at 60 and subsequently completed a four-year degree in fine arts. In 2011, friends identified in him the necessary skills to manage their inner Sydney psychiatric practice. Peter jumped at the chance.
“I do it because I love it. It’s great interacting with people and I love working in a team. I also enjoy the social interaction – we have drinks and occasional dinners which I enjoy,” says Peter.
Recently Peter scaled back his workload to two days per week and now works as the practice’s administration officer.
While the money allows him to finance his passion for travel, Peter’s decision to re-enter the workforce wasn’t economically motivated.
He simply wants to work. And he also brings a skillset gained from his former life as a dentist.
“People who came into my dental surgery were often very anxious. I’m used to that. So, just this morning we had a young girl come into the psychiatric practice who was desperate, and her mum was also distraught. I used my calming skills to help them access a calm place. It’s one of the attributes I gained over my years in dentistry.”
Although Peter’s experience has been positive, age discrimination continues to be an issue in many Australian workplaces with Seniors Australia finding one in four people reporting work rejection because of their age.
The Federal Government is incentivising mature age employment. Its Restart initiative encourages businesses to hire and retain mature age employees who are 50 years of age and over through a $10,000 wage subsidy.
While labour shortages might be producing anxiety for many employers, it’s a source of opportunity for job seekers especially those in their middle years who are reinventing themselves because of financial necessity or situational change.
Edwina Seaton, 54, says retraining and re-thinking her place in the workforce after divorcing from her husband was an imperative.
Upon graduating from Sydney University more than 30 years ago with a diploma in education, Edwina worked for nearly a decade in the cutthroat world of Sydney talk radio as a producer. Whilst married and raising her two children, she worked part-time as a sports coach in various Sydney schools and organisations. When her marriage ended, she decided on a course which would prove both life changing and affirming.
“I had to set up a new career and I needed to get a job where I could always find employment. I also wanted to leave Sydney and live in Jindabyne,” says Edwina.
“Nineteen years ago, a woman skied into me in Perisher and my leg broke in six places. I always thought I’d love to be a nurse and give back because the care I got was so outstanding and made the difference to my recovery. They gave me hope and resilience and understood my pain where few others could. The nurses were kind and helpful and so began this feeling in me that I too could become a nurse.”
Graduating from Australian Catholic University 18 months ago as a registered nurse, Edwina realised her dream of a job and a new start in the snowy mountains. She works at both Cooma and Bombala hospitals which is good news for our sorely stretched health system. She’s already been nominated for two industry awards for excellence.
“As a mature-aged worker I bring life experience to my role. I bring compassion. I’m not just here for a trailblazing career, but to do the work and achieve excellence in person-centred care. I have a feeling of self-satisfaction when I help patients which generates a greater sense of wellbeing for me too.”
“It’s also allowed me to meet so many new friends as well as feel confident in my abilities again. I’m part of a great nursing team which is the backbone of the hospital.”
“I love it,” adds Edwina. “It’s the best decision I ever made.”
As Robert DeNiro’s intern Ben reminds us in Nancy Meyer’s film, workers can be a gift to any workplace that keeps on giving.
“I read once; musicians don’t retire. They stop when there’s no more music in them. Well, I still have music in me. Absolutely positive about that.”