In a world of change, of fiscal gaps, demanding KPI’s, of never-ending audits and the parry of organisational politics, one struggles to find good news. But it’s coming from an unlikely source – your HR department.
In the next forty years Australia’s organisations – both great and small – will no longer repel younger workers because they have ‘no experience’. Nor will older workers in there 50s and 60s be forced to retire or fail to be hired because they were ‘too qualified’ or ‘might have trouble with the IT’.
Covert methods to discriminate against employment on the basis of age will signal that a ‘dinosaur’ is lumbering through. And like a meteorite, these changes will hit hard and soon.
There will come a time when spending increases again and the demand for workers increases. Employers won't care if they are 27 or 67 years of age, as long as they are candidates of merit and can do the job.
While population ageing poses some threats, it offers extraordinary opportunities too. Business magazines often talk about creating a smart company – an organic corporation committed to life long learning which values organisation culture and history; a business, which has a true competitive edge – it’s people.
The future of modern organisations will be heterogeneous. They will have a ‘Christmas table mix’ of young, well-educated Millennials and Gen Ys working with their parents and grandparents. It is an extraordinary opportunity to create a new kind of organisation, one that replicates learning, participation and production across the life cycle.
But we need action now. A recent survey of 400 businesses conducted by the Australian Industry Group and Deloitte found that more than a quarter of companies could not find workers to fill vacant positions, and this is predicted to get worse in the next five years.
The number of working age people to support each retiree is expected to fall from five people today, to 2.7 people by 2049-50. In 1970, there were 7.5 working age people for each person aged over 65. That’s not good news.
Enticing older workers to stay in the workforce longer enhances productivity growth, improves living standards and helps meet the fiscal challenge of the ageing population. And what of younger workers? Their labour will be in high demand and depending on the profession, can expect strong wage growth.
Cambridge University conducted a ten-year study of older workers in the 1990s and found that their experience gave an increased ability to deal with new and unexpected situations. The study found although speed declined a little with age, accuracy increased and ‘unconscious optimisation’ i.e., the ability to compensate for changes that impaired performance, appeared to improve with age.
We are now living longer and healthier lives. Life expectancy has increased to 78 years for men and 83 years for women. More than 75 percent of Australians aged 55-64 rate their health as ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. The ABS states that mature age workers are less likely to take days off or to care for others and are less likely to experience work-related injuries than other workers.
Small adjustments now to grow the economy by increasing productivity and participation and planning for future demographic change will prevent the need for sharper and more costly adjustments in the future.
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