Age old wisdom

It was only a few years ago that an article in the US magazine Forbes proclaimed, “The day is coming when employers are going to embrace the value of older workers. They don't have a choice.”

It then explained that the US relies increasingly on people over 50 continuing to work, in order for the country’s economy to function. 

A similar realisation is also being confronted in Australia. According to the 'Willing to Work: National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination Against Older Australians' 2016 study, people over 55 account for only 16 per cent of the workforce, despite making up around 25 per cent of the population.

But with repeated political announcements in recent years about the changes to the retirement age, now said to be moving to 70 in the coming decades, the concept of mature workers remaining in the workforce longer has taken on a new perspective.

The Australian hardware leader Bunnings Warehouse estimates a quarter of its workforce is aged over 50, and has adopted the policy as a deliberate – and successful – employment strategy.

It’s a point emphasised in Bunnings’ ubiquitous television advertisements, featuring a range of older floor staff workers offering their wisdom from stores around Australia.

“We learned a long time ago that older, more experienced team members are an integral part of creating a business that engenders trust and confidence for our customers,” Bianca Starcevich, Bunnings General Manager – Human Resources, says.

“Our team spans six generations – from 15 to 80 – which provides fantastic learning and mentoring opportunities for everyone.”

Bunnings claims its rate of hiring older workers looks set to increase as retirees return to the workforce, either for new opportunities or seeking out greater financial security. It’s now credited as being one of the biggest employers of mature workers in Australia. 

“Mature aged workers have some great experience and are a great fit for us as they can often offer great advice and inspire local customers with their D.I.Y projects and knowledge,” Ms Starcevich says.

It’s a similar tale of mature workers taking on a range of key roles at Woolworths, which has a workforce of 115,000 in almost 1000 stores across the country.

According to Tony Backshall, Head of Diversity and Culture at the Woolworths Group, diversity is a key value when it comes to hiring with the supermarket giant.

“We believe our customers should see in our people a reflection of themselves and their communities,” Mr Backshall says. “Just over 47,000 – or one fifth – of our workforce is over 45 years old.”

Woolworths has a number of initiatives regarding mature workers to attract, recruit and retain this part of the workforce.

“We know our mature age workers bring significant benefits to the workplace including life experience and stability,” he adds. “They also play a valuable role in coaching and mentoring younger team members.”

It might be assumed that a technology leader would be one of the last places to find a strong contingent of mature workers, but that’s the case with the staff at the Gold Coast’s Powertec Telecommunications.

Three of the company’s senior executives are all aged 70, with the next level of middle management all in the vicinity of 50 years of age.

“As a progressive technical company, we don't find that older staff have a problem with acceptance of new technologies – in fact their experience seems to make it easier to understand and make the best decisions for progression,” Marketing Manager Samantha Clifton says.

“They have the experience to pick up details of new products based on their long work history.”

It’s in demonstrated work ethic that Ms Clifton reports a particular advantage with mature workers.

“Their work ethic is great, they take far less sick leave. In fact, two of our older staff are either first in and last to leave,” she says. 

“It just seems older staff are, on occasion, better than younger staff who are often dealing with their lives like new children and money issues. And they don’t stress about the small stuff.”

One of the main benefits when a company employs a strong workforce of mature workers has been that a process of natural mentoring emerges between senior and junior staff, observes Bunnings’ Bianca Starcevich.

“This creates a genuine blend of experience,” Ms Starcevich says.

“This is a win for customers, it's a win for our younger team members and it's a win for the mature aged worker.”

Does your company try to attract older workers? Share your story here.

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