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Are Mature Workers Getting a Fair Go?

by David Boyar |

Mature workers, Gig economy, Employment, Business

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November 22 , 2016

A couple of weeks ago, Frank Price did a favour for a friend. His friend, in his mid-50s, was made redundant.  Feeling rejected, Frank’s friend commented that he, like many other professionals in their 50s, are not ready to be dumped in the “scrap heap”.

The post received 390 likes and 43 comments – fairly large by Frank’s usual posting standards – and after chatting with Frank, he was as taken aback by the supportive response, as was I.

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The comments support the idea that mature/experienced workers are doing it tough in the job market and that there is a perceived aged discrimination. Many supported my anecdotal experience that this extends down to people in their mid-40s.

This is an issue I have been working with in my business for two years. As a Virtual CFO, I have seen first-hand that the experience of senior professionals is valued very highly by SMEs. The problem boils down to cultural, technological and accessibility issues in the current market. I know because I have collaborated with mature consultants for my clients and found it challenging. However, the value was absolutely confirmed. So here are some of my musings on what I’ve seen.

There are three trends at play here:

  1. Mature workers don’t feel they are given a fair go in the employment market
  2. Employing mature workers is good for business, individuals and the broader economy
  3. There are emerging work methods that may help mature workers

Trend 1: There isn’t a fair go

This isn’t entirely true if you accept the academia out there.

A joint study done by Financial Services Council and Commonwealth Bank challenges this perspective. Sally Loane, CEO of the FSC, whose opinion perhaps best reflects the industry I relate to, commented that “It is encouraging to see that age discrimination in the workplace is decreasing. 13 per cent of respondents in this year’s survey reported age-related discrimination because they were over 50 – a significant halving of the 2012 response of 28 per cent.”

However, in my experience, the anecdotes don’t match this positive trend.

Trend 2: Mature workers are good for Australia

A new PwC global report points out that harnessing the power of an older workforce could deliver gains of up to $78 billion for the Australian economy. The report also highlights that if Australia’s employment rates for older workers aged 55+ was increased to those in Sweden (74% of those aged 55-64 employed), Australia’s GDP could be around 5 per cent higher.

“What we’re seeing in other parts of the world is that later retirement and more flexible working policies is good for the economy, businesses and individuals.” says PwC Economics and Policy Partner, Jeremy Thorpe.

Trend 3: The Gig economy

The Gig economy is very real and the majority of press is very optimistic about it. It covers freelance “gigs”, 3-6 month project work and often sees teams of freelancers forming to work on projects together. Larger employers are beginning to re-align their work force to take advantage of this flexible demand from the market.

This new trend relies on digital platforms to match workers with opportunities.

Whilst this is more apparent for lower paid workers in America working for Uber and even Airbnb, Australia is right up there with freelancer.com and expert360.com, leading the world in freelance consulting digital platforms.

Now we need to consider the downside. There is much less certainty as a gig worker. In light of this trend, governments are grappling with how to make the consultant vs. employee tax issue work, but this is a whole other discussion.

I am convinced in the value of experienced workers to SMEs and will be positioning my business to take advantage of their value. However, there are big trends at play, and the challenge is to unlock the model that offers the benefits economic pundits are predicting.

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