Australian business is starting to see the light when it comes to their hiring policies for mature aged employees, and the positive impact they can have on the workplace. A brief visit to main street shopping centre and you will begin to see a few more weathered faces at work than you would have seen a few years ago.
However, if you scratch below the surface, you begin to see this trend still has a long way to play out. A few older workers get hired into the senior ranks where experience and maturity are greatly valued, more older workers are now being hired at the lower end of the corporate scale into unskilled roles, however the numbers being hired into the mid tier ranks remains low.
This barbell approach to hiring mature workers at the top and bottom of an organisation reflects an ongoing bias that remains difficult to overcome. A company is a microcosm of society, and in a perfect world employers should (within reason) seek diversity in the workplace and value skill, experience and aptitude, regardless of age, race or gender.
Unfortunately, we live in a far from perfect world. When it comes to mature aged workers they tend to be penalised on two fronts. Often the first to be made redundant in uncertain economic times, this setback is then compounded when they are regularly overlooked for someone younger as they begin searching for a new job.
As a result of these two biases towards mature aged job seekers, once out of work, the journey back can often be long and arduous. This is reflected in RBA statistics which indicate long-term unemployment at approximately 40% for those aged 45-64, compared to about 25% for those aged between 25 and 44.
So what are the reasons employers provide for not hiring mature aged workers? Typically, reasons include being overqualified or over-experienced. Taken at face value being overqualified or experienced might not seem so bad, but when you hear the same reason trotted out time and again, it becomes less palatable.
Openly negative feedback from employers tend to include perceptions that mature aged workers are not as IT savvy, do not possess the latest skills, or are not as flexible as their younger counterparts. While these reasons may hold true in many instances, many of the older job seekers I speak to, believe these are often used as convenient excuses to exclude them.
Employer feedback that you are not likely to hear include concerns about health (and subsequent cost) or worse insecurity. There are many poor managers in the workplace that may be intimidated by the experience a mature applicant brings to the role. Rather than leveraging the knowledge and experience an older worker can bring to the workplace, the insecure hirer is concerned about the potential competition, and the presence of someone who may know more than they do.
Dealing with many of these preconceived concerns and fears remains an ongoing challenge for the mature aged job seeker. Perhaps the following facts should be mandatory reading for hiring managers. These facts debunk many of the concerns and myths that persist in the workplace relating to mature aged workers;
- Mature aged workers can deliver cost savings to employers through increased retention rates. For example, workers over 55 are five times less likely to change jobs compared to workers aged 20-24, reducing both recruitment and training costs. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006)Labour Mobility Survey,
- Mature workers can deliver an average net benefit of $1956 per year to their employer compared to other workers due to high retention rates, lower rates of absenteeism, decreased recruitment costs and greater return on investment.Business, Work and Ageing (2000) Profiting from Maturity: The Social and Economic Costs of Mature Age Unemployment
- Australians are living longer and are healthier.2005 ABS survey found the proportion of Australians aged 55-64 reporting their health as ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ was 75.5% – an increase of four per cent since 1995. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006) National Health Survey: Summary of Results, 2004-05
- Mature workers were the least likely group to take days off due to their own illness or as a carer. In the two week period prior to the survey nearly half the number of mature workers had days off compared to workers aged 25-34. ibid
- ABS data shows that Australians aged 55-64 are the fastest growing users of information technology. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2005) Year Book Australia,
- Australian Health Management which examined the daily work habits of 4000 employees found that workers aged 55 years and over performed at their best for approximately seven hours out of an eight-hour day-an achievement that other workers in the study were unable to match. Australian Health Management (2006), Baby boomers give employers a bang for their buck
While government has been doing its part to address mature aged unemployment through initiatives like DEEWR Experience+, the introduction of the Age Discrimination Act (2004) and appointment of an Age Discrimination Commissioner, it remains imperative that older job seekers directly address some of these age bias issues themselves if they are to enhance their prospects for employment.
Following are some helpful hints that mature aged workers can utilise to make themselves more appealing to employers and thus improve their chances of a speedy return to the workforce;
Government or Community Assistance– Take advantage of government or community based initiatives and assistance. There is a considerable amount of free information and assistance available, and I would strongly recommend looking into these resources. For example, the DEEWR “Experience+” initiative provides free career planning and advice for over 45’s until June 2016, along with an Assistance Program delivering refresher and basic training in IT and social media applications.
Value Proposition– Whether writing your resume or cover letter, or sitting in an interview, ensure the focus of discussion clearly remains on the value that you can bring to an organisation. Discuss how you can help, what you have done in the past and what you can deliver going forward. Outline how your experience might bring special insights and perspectives that other candidates may not possess.
Training– Undertake relevant training or up-skilling. Keeping ‘up to date’ is critical if you expect serious consideration for any position, especially if there is a technical element. The benefit will be that an employer will see that you have not fallen behind and therefore will not require retraining, along with any associated cost.
Resume– You will need a properly structured and well written resume to be considered for most roles. Use an appropriate resume style that is tailored to your strengths, skills and experience. Also ensure primary focus of your resume is on the last 5-10 years (include older information where pertinent). Think about getting assistance from a professional resume writer, whocan add significant value if you are looking to ‘get it right the first time’.
Age Bias – To counter potential impact of age bias, you will need to carefully address the following with any potential employer;
Health– Don’t hesitate to communicate your good health and fitness to potential employers at opportune moments. Inform them if you play sport, run, walk or go to the gym regularly. This should allay any potential concerns about health.
IT Savvy –Take every opportunity to indicate your IT capability. Whether it’s your ability to use specialised systems, the MS Office suite or even your use of Facebook or Twitter, this will highlight your ability to embrace new technology.
Adaptability – Highlight your adaptability in the workplace, providing actual examples where appropriate. If you don’t know something, indicate you are keen to learn (and not that you wouldn’t know where to start). Highlighting your adaptability will help to dispel concerns of rigidness and inflexibility.
Team Player –Communicating that you work well as part of a team is critical. It shows a willingness to take direction and work for the common good, and can present you as less threatening, especially if the hirer feels concerned by a mature more experienced candidate.
Be Positive –Though you need to be fully prepared to discuss negative issues, make every attempt to keep the discussion on a positive footing. Unless specifically requested, there is no need to volunteer information of a negative nature.
While industry is beginning to see the light when it comes to acceptance of mature aged workers, the pace of change remains slow. While providence is on the right side due to the ageing Australian population and the inevitable necessity to hire older workers, the fact remains that age discrimination is still entrenched in much current thinking.
As a result, dealing with age bias will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future. However with the combination of positive government policy, changing attitudes and a proactive attitude to making oneself more appealing to employers (as outlined above), the situation is not without promise.
Honing your individual approach and message will take time and effort. To strike the right balance the mature job seeker will need to walk a fine line between sounding experienced, but not old, adaptable, but not inflexible and appear keen, not desperate. There is no magic formula for success except practice, perseverance and occasionally seeking help where necessary.