Australia’s chronic skill shortage has been even more acute since the breakout of COVID-19, and the broken record from businesses across all industries is the lack of skilled workers. In the age of emerging technologies and the rapid rate of change, it is natural for employers to gravitate to the younger (‘techier’) generation.
But younger workers are in short supply, shown by the decline in Australia’s birth rate over the last 30 years. Since 1976, Australia’s total fertility rate has been below replacement level and in 2019, the ‘total fertility rate’ was 1.66 versus its peak of 3.55 in 1961.
So, should astute hiring managers be looking towards the relatively untapped resource presented by the 19.4% of our workforce over 55 years of age? Over 55-year-olds also represent a significant 38.5% of the population above 19 years of age. With a current combined life expectancy of 83 years, a 55-year-old has many working years ahead of them.
Are older Australians up to the job?
If you are worried about performance, research shows no difference in performance between older and more youthful workers. A key strategy for workforces globally is to reskill and upskill their existing workforce, and older workers are equally able to adapt and learn new skills. Scientific evidence shows that ‘for most people, raw mental horsepower declines after the age of 30, but knowledge and expertise – the main predictors of job performance–keep increasing even beyond the age of 80.’ Some businesses persist in trying to source talent from the ‘younger generational’ pool – their age bias can be that strong! In a recent study, 31% of Australians reported experiencing a form of discrimination, with ageism topping the list. But if employers were to rethink their approach when it comes to older workers, they would soon find themselves with a valuable talent pool.
Skills displayed in older workers
Still not convinced. There are skills older workers have that their younger counterparts may not possess. Older workers have wisdom. Wisdom cannot be learnt from books or virtual learning scenarios. It is acquired over time from life experience, knowledge, and tried and tested judgements. Valuable insights, meaningful contributions, and good decision making are some of the benefits.
Mentoring enhances training programs and represents a valuable and different dynamic for mentees. We have lost some of our formal and traditional structures with changing societal norms and, with that, real role models. Acting as role models based on values and life achievements, they can nurture younger workers and share general and professional knowledge, experience, and life lessons. Mentoring creates trusted relations, increases employee engagement and retention, provides inspiration, encouragement and helps diversity.
Patience and tolerance are not just needed but expected for all workplaces. Learnt patience comes with time and less of a need to prove yourself. Being comfortable in your skin brings confidence, more prevalent in mature workers. Having tolerance in accepting people’s views and differences positively impact the team environment, bringing increased inclusion, cooperation, and collaboration. Patience also leads to better self-regulation skills benefiting team dynamics.
Over the years, mature employees have worked with various types of co-workers and managers and learnt how to handle different personality styles and work environments. Their interpersonal skills are well-honed. Their perceptions and understanding of behaviours are deeper.
We have all worked with those special, reliable employees who have seen it all before and know how to weather the latest storm. In our current times of increased uncertainty, rapid change and the collective anxiety brought on by COVID, it makes sense to employ stable, mature, wise individuals who can act as emotional anchors and help us navigate turbulent waters.
For the first time, Australia’s workforce includes five different generations. It opens up a learning opportunity and creates better business performance. As a final point, before you continue to dismiss ‘older workers’, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), older workers are those 45-65 years of age. Now, who is an older worker?