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Getting on at work

OUR aging population is creating some new challenges in the workforce as recruiters and human resource managers grapple with what is becoming a significant concern.

Statistical projections suggest that, by 2016, about 29 per cent of the population will be aged 55 or over.

The large number of mature-aged people still working means that, as the baby boomers reach retirement age, a huge group of workers will be exiting the workforce over a relatively short period.

Issues such as skills shortages present real challenges for the workplace of the future, and for the managers and recruiters of today.

It is estimated that, between 1998 and 2016, more than 80 per cent of the projected growth in the labour market will be in the 45 and over age group.

The 60-64 age group, which accounted for less than 3 per cent of the labour force in 1998, will make up 15 per cent of the total growth of the labour force between 1998 and 2016.

Bob Southwell is career adviser/ team manager at TMP, one of the largest human resource operators in Australia. He claims that, despite the growing number of mature workers in the labour force, redundancy drives still seem to target older workers.

“By next year a third of the population will be over 45,” Mr Southwell said.

“I think there was a perception that the baby boomers were going to take the money and run, but it’s not the case.”

Australia’s newest retirement aged citizens, the baby boomers, are fitter, more active and wealthier than any previous generation.

And many of these individuals are still in full-time work, with working lives being stretched out both as a result of financial pressures and a social trend to retire later.

Human resource managers are being forced to manage issues related to mature workers, including the prejudices workers bring to the job.

Mr Southwell emphasises that a balanced workforce is probably the most important goal for any business.

It’s not just about the wisdom of mature workers or the energy of fresh new faces, there needs to be a balance like in any functional community, he suggested.

“I think the focus should be on looking for an age-diverse work-force,” Mr Southwell said.

“By 2020 there will be more people leaving the workplace than entering it.

“We need to remove some of the stereotypical subjectivity in the workforce.”

Attitudes to learning, technology and management style are all affected by the age-based prejudices.

Both young and old workers can gain a lot from their fellow workers – young people are traditionally more flexible, but there’s no substitute for experience.

While these can be positive attributes, human resource managers need to work hard to ensure they are not used to pigeonhole people.

While there’s no simple answer to the shift we are experiencing in the workforce, in the end a combination of training and attitude will allow businesses to address the diverse issues of an aging workforce and the challenges of maintaining a balanced workplace.

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