Why employers choose older workers

Both employers and employees can benefit from hiring mature-age workers. Here's why.

Catriona Byrne from career transition company, Sageco, says there are many reasons to employ older people, but above all it's their “deep smarts” that makes them invaluable to potential employers.

And it has a lot to do with experience. People nearing retirement in an engineering company, for example, may have designed and built 300 bridges in their career, says Byrne. Yet, because this kind of work is now often contracted out, a young engineer today may only work on two or three bridges in their lifetime. They may have experience across a variety of projects, but they may never get the same sort of specialised knowledge that their seniors had.

"You have got someone with deep experience and an ability to notice patterns and share knowledge, and those people are out there and wanting to work still and wanting to contribute,” says Byrne.

This is the kind of thinking that is driving some employers to retain their more experienced staff for longer — some employers are bumping up superannuation payments, others are offering grandparents' leave, and some provide the option to work reduced hours to retirement.

But for every forward-thinking employer or company, there are thousands of workplaces that won’t even interview someone over the age of 50 because they think a younger recruit will stay longer (wrong), they will have more sick days (wrong), they will not be able to cope with the technology (wrong), they will want too much money (not necessarily), or they won’t want to take direction from a younger boss (that ultimately comes down to a personality issue, not an age-related one).

Other discrimination issues facing mature-age workers include incivility in the way older workers are spoken to, exclusion from conversations and events, and ideas being ignored, writes Ruth Williams from the Centre for Workplace Leadership, University of Melbourne.

In fact many of the biases around employing mature-age workers are based on myths, says Byrne. And, when employers make a concerted effort to get the most out of all their employees, the evidence is there for all to see.

“If you don’t have a strategy to employ and retain older workers, you miss out on great employees," argues Byrne. 

Valuable -at -work -tech -wyza -com -au
Mature-age workers are much more tech savvy than employers may think

“You can hire someone at 50 and they will still be there at 55. It is not a stepping stone to another career. They are usually very comfortable in their choice of what they want to do.”

Employers who ignore or shun these workers also miss out on having a workforce that can identify with their customer base. “Mature-age people are also consumers," says Byrne.

The vast majority of employers who have programs for older workers are focused solely on retention and knowledge exchange. Very few have measures in place to hire new people over the age of 50 - they just want to keep the ones they have for longer.

Bunnings is famous for recruiting pre-retirement “tradies” to staff its shop floors (making their knowledge and experience a competitive strength) and accommodation group. And Westpac offers grandparents the option to take up to 52 weeks unpaid grandparental leave to be the child's primary caregiver up to their second birthday. 

Byrne says the insurance industry is also keen to use the life experience of mature-age worker.

Busting the myths

1. Not physically up to the job: Many of the functional changes associated with growing older can be delayed or reversed through interventions involving training and many of the workplace alterations that address ageing related need are of benefit to all workers, not only those who are older.

2. Too slow and inflexible: Older workers are considered to have more sustained levels of productivity throughout a working day. Research has shown that older workers are responsive to training, especially flexible learning pathways. In some cases mature-age workers have missed out on formal training but experience must be taken into account in addressing the deficit.

3. Can’t keep up with technology: Older people are the fastest growing group of internet users. Many have well-developed technical skills and can adapt easily to new technology.

4. They will retire tomorrow: One Australian study found that more than 45 per cent of workers aged 45 or more intended to remain in the workforce until the age of 65 to 69. So they offer up to a potential 20 year investment for an employer providing training for them. By contrast, workers aged 30 to 39 remain with an employer for an average of 5.8 years.

5. Their training and education is now out of date: Many mature-age workers have well developed technical skills and can adapt easily to new technology. Additional forms of training (such as management and mentoring) can harness the valuable experience of older workers to benefit the business.

(Source: ACCI)

Have you experienced age-related discrimination when applying for a job? Let us know in the comments below.

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