I was interested to hear the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, make comments last week about “older people” (which he defines as 60 years and over) staying in the workforce as long as possible.
The 2015 Intergenerational Report he released is giving us the same message the previous editions did: that is, our population is growing older, we’re living longer and one of the best ways to maintain our lifestyle individually and nationally is to work as long as possible.
I then listened for a short time to a mostly nonsensical discussion between Mr Hockey and an ABC Radio interviewer who seemed to work from the basis that:
(a) so-called older people don’t want to work;
(b) we’re all useless with technology, other than Facebook; and
(c) apparently the solution is for all of us to go and work at Bunnings, around half of whose workforce is aged over 60.
With no disrespect to Bunnings – one of my favourite weekend stores – or the people who work there, just because you’re aged over 60 years it doesn’t mean you’re suited to work in Bunnings. It’s a great place for a former ‘tradie’ or someone with handyperson or customer service skills, but just because people reach a certain age, it doesn’t mean our whole mindset and occupational proclivities shift to home hardware.
The second matter is easy to deal with. Technology use can be learned.
In the past decade or so of my teaching career, I had to learn to use it not only to keep up with my students but also to ensure I was teaching them using the latest methodologies. While someone like me may have found it easier to learn than others, that then becomes an issue of time, not how difficult it implicitly is. So if technology is one of the key issues, why doesn’t the government do something positive to encourage we ‘oldies’ to learn, understand and use technology to a suitable workplace level? Maybe a 4-week course at TAFE or a private college for all of us might be a good use of taxpayers’ money in the long run.
The first premise discussed by Mr Hockey and the journalist that so many of us do not want to work is wrong. This ignores the fact that many people – not just in their 60s, but their 50s and even later 40s – want to work but cannot get a job.
The discrimination faced by people in 50+ years age group is not dissimilar to that faced by many women in the workplace, especially those with young children.
I will share with you just two examples of friends of mine, both of whom are younger than me.
A friend in her late 50s is well-qualified, has worked at senior executive levels, is excellent with technology and digital media and is totally up-to-date in her field of expertise. But since she was made redundant several years ago at the end of the Global Financial Crisis, she has not been able to find employment. She has tried all the advice that recruiters give – such as, “don’t put a date of when you got your degrees as that ages you”, or “don’t recount all your work experience because that ages you”, “or just focus on the last ten years because anything before that is too far away.”
Do you see the pattern? Rather than appreciating the fact that this woman has extraordinary experience and a wealth of knowledge, which would be an asset in the workplace, she’s being actively told to ‘hide’ her age.
Likewise, I have a male friend who is just 50. He also is also well-qualified in his field, and has an MBA from one of Australia’s best business schools. He lost his job also in the GFC and he can’t get another one.
In both these cases, it’s not as if they haven’t tried. It’s not as if they’re not prepared to accept a role with less money and at a lower level of operation. It’s not as if they haven’t undertaken voluntary work – both still do – to keep their skills current. It’s not as if they are not willing to move: my male friend, his wife and children moved interstate because he thought he might have a better chance in his ‘home’ city; my female friend, who has grown-up children, would readily move interstate with her husband if there was a suitable role.
In both cases, the advice from recruiters to ‘just focus on the last ten years’ helps to make their situation worse as they have both spent the majority of the past ten years unemployed or at least under-employed. I won’t even bother, in this instance, talking of the drain on their self-esteem and confidence.
Getting back to the Intergenerational Report and the issues it raises, the tragedy for these two people is they’re not yet technically “older people”; they’re not able to access any superannuation savings; they’ve lost 5-6 years of participation in the workforce which has not only affected their, and their family’s, lifestyle now but also their future – the very future which Mr Hockey says people need to keep working for so they can afford it.
I’m not saying it’s Mr Hockey’s fault that there is rampant workplace discrimination against of people more than 45 years. But instead of just glibly saying the bleeding obvious of “We need to get employers to employ older people” – the Government needs to take active steps about it.
A public education campaign. Incentives to employers to employ people aged 50+. Free technology classes if they’re required. Reports on the composition of workforces, not just for gender but age also.
I do not have the answers, but I’m also not elected by the people to come up with them. But what I do know is that Mr Hockey (and the journalist who interviewed him) clearly didn’t really understand what it’s like to be in the situation of my two friends, or others like them whom I know.
Jobs have to be available. Bunnings is not the answer for everyone aged 60+. Technology can be learned. Attitudes have to change. More importantly, so does behaviour.
As the Intergenerational Report makes clear, it’s for the good of the nation.