Has the recent federal budget left you feeling nonplussed about your lot in the 50+ demographic? Perhaps you can’t find work or are too young for the pension, so are just scraping by on the Newstart allowance. We hear you —  that’s why we’re exploring the issue so you can find doors that actually open for you.

Budget offerings
Firstly, what is in the proposed federal budget for you?

For people aged 50 and over, the Federal Government plans to spend $189.7M supporting jobs and skills through its More Choices for Longer Life Package, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Jobs and Small Business.

“The Australian government believes that we cannot afford to waste the talent and skills of mature age workers by excluding them from the workplace.”

Most of the government’s spending ($136.4M) will expand the jobactive Restart program and, from July 1, fund a national rollout of the Career Transition Assistance Program.

Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers has $19.3M to help those aged 50+ upskill and “explore new career opportunities”.

$15.2M is promised to help mature age workers find work after retrenchment, and another $17.7M to add 20 locations for the Entrepreneurship Facilitators’ Program to promote self-employment.

Will they work?
The chief executive of the Council on the Ageing (COTA Australia), Ian Yates, AM, gives a measured response.

“[The Budget] provides a wider and deeper suite of supports than just Restart, and although the allocations aren’t huge, they are not insignificant … if successful, they can be expanded to respond to demand,” he says.

COTA supports the Australian Council of Social Service and other organisations’ push for a $75 per week increase in Newstart.

“We’ve also very concerned that the conditions for accessing Newstart require people to use their own cash reserves and savings other than super,” says Yates.

Restart to a dead end?
Meanwhile, Restart has come under fire. It’s a program that gives employers a $10,000 subsidy to employ a mature-age worker for 12 months. Last year, it helped more than 12,000 people and nine out of 10 participants were still employed three months after the job placement. However, the department doesn’t track what happens after that period — and that’s where the critics come in.

Judy Higgins, General Manager of Olderworkers, a jobs website for people aged 45+, argues the program isn’t a success.

“Feedback from our jobseekers is that some have been put on through this scheme and when the subsidy runs out, they’re retrenched. Often the same employer creates a same but different job (new title, different hours, a few different duties officially) and gets another $10k,” she says.

Higgins questions the “red tape” of job seekers needing to be aged 50+, being unemployed for six or more months, and be registered with a jobactive agency.

“Why only those on benefits, why only six months, and why have employer incentives? Genuine employers aren’t looking for incentives. They’re looking for the right skills and people who’ll be a good ‘fit’ in their organisation,” she says.

Proactive job hunting
While we wait for the Federal Government to battle out the detail of the proposed budget, consider these tips for being more proactive about securing meaningful employment:

  • Future work is here: If you want full-time work, could two or more part-time jobs fit the bill?
  • Rethink your offerings: Are you just responding to job ads, trying to make your CV fit the position description? Do an audit of your skills, then recast yourself to proactively find work that fits your career goals and needs. Tap into your network, become a LinkedIn superuser, and ensure your CV design is contemporary.
  • Ditch a job for gigs: How about working on a task-by-task basis for various employers? That’s how thought-leader AIGroup defines the emerging ‘gig economy’ (more details below).
  • Fly solo: Set up your own business or consultancy.
  • Write a book: Do what Julie Ankers did — write a book, self-publish it, and start a speaking tour to sell copies, then do it all over again with a new book.
  • Focus on skills employers need: Free or modest-priced online courses focused on work skills include Grow with Google, Free Code CampMassive Open Online Courses, ALISON, Udacity, Khan Academy, FutureLearn, Udemy, Skillshare, and HubSpot to name a few.

Enter the gig economy
About 4.1M Australians freelance, many of them in the gig economy, according to AIGroup. The largest categories are web, mobile and software development (44%), design and creative (14%), customer and admin support (13%), sales and marketing (10%), and writing (8%).

Digital platforms allow freelancers to match their skills with ready-to-hire employers. This list of 18 top platforms will get you started, while US website Forbes has listed 79 such freelancer sites.

Speaking from experience — having used several online platforms to generate income over the past two years — it’s not necessarily “doom and gloom” when it comes to pay rates.

Upwork is the world’s heftiest platform with 12M registered freelancers, 5M registered clients, and a whopping 3M jobs posted annually — including many for virtual assistants. I’ve earnt more than $US30,000 from 49 jobs (several are ongoing clients, and yes, they’re across the globe) via Upwork. Bottom line is, find your niches and micro-market them.

However, casual or gig work may not work well for everyone. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that when people move to casual work, a third earn less than previously.

Don’t let that and ageism get you down. Take Higgins catch-cry to heart: “Older workers aren’t a basket case. Many of them have a great variety of skills.”

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