Baby Boomers: A Part Time Employer’s Gold Mine

Susan Ryan has been named as the first Age Discrimination Commissioner. Photo: Ben Rushton.

Newly-appointed Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan is taking aim at what she believes is “the issue of our time” — age discrimination. With a focus on older workers, Ryan told SmartCompany that reducing age discrimination is an economic imperative, particularly as the working world faces a skills shortage and the number of mature age workers starts to outnumber those entering the workforce.

Ryan believes small business stands to gain by taking on more experienced workers, particularly part time and Fiona Anson, co-founder of job board HireMeUp.com.au, agrees.

“The theory that baby boomers would retire and leave us with a skill shortage has become a bit of a fallacy thanks to the GFC and its erosion of superannuation savings”, Anson said.  “What we are seeing, however, is a move of mature age workers from full time to part time for two reasons — one to prop up their decimated super and the other because they still want the stimulation that working provides.  What’s more, they come with real world experience across good times and bad that is simply invaluable to business.”

Ryan agrees that older workers provide a big opportunity for small businesses because they’re often looking for employees with a lot of experience and “if you only have a small number of employees, you need them to be able to do a wide range of things.”

Ryan embarked upon her new role as Age Discrimination Commissioner this week with prejudice against older workers at the forefront of her agenda.

“The research I’ve seen suggests that many companies take a negative view to employees as they get older and discourage them from thinking about doing training or getting new skills,” Ryan said.

“They might have the attitude that it wouldn’t be a good investment, and yet a worker at 55 might have a very good 15 years to contribute.”

Some industries may be more suitable for older workers than others, but even those who manage traditionally younger staff  like pubs can see the benefits.

Pub Manager Rob Clark of The Drummoyne Birkenhead Hotel admits he is hesitant to hire older workers simply because they can be slower at picking up on the technologically-advanced systems many hoteliers now rely on. But, if the right candidate came along he’d certainly be willing to work with that person because he can appreciate the benefits older workers bring to the table such as maturity, experience and a strong work ethic.

Fiona Anson adds, “Older workers remember the days when it was all about customer service and they bring an attitude of ‘going the extra mile’ with them. These days, with businesses really feeling the economic pinch, customer service can make or break a business”.

HireMeUp.com.au specialises in the flexible job market and with the first wave of baby boomers reaching retirement this year, Anson expects a huge influx of experience and talent to expand the rapidly-growing part-time segment. Each month, almost without fail, the Australian Bureau of Statisticsreports an increase in part-time employment. In their latest Labour Force Report, the ABS reported that there are 3,395,400 Australian employed part time and 183,600 looking specifically for part-time work.

Pamela Denoon, Ian Macphee and Susan Ryan at WEL party celebrating the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act, March 1984.

The willingness to fill in part-time places coupled with unique skills sets and business experience might just be what Ryan needs to sell the benefit of mature age workers and promote anti-age discrimination.

Drawing on her experience in helping to bring in the Sex Discrimination Act, which addresses discrimination on the basis of gender, marital status or pregnancy, Ryan expressed optimism that a similar shift would occur in relation to how businesses look at older workers.

“We’ve made that big cultural shift,” Ryan told SmartCompany.

“We need to make the same thing for mature workers. But I don’t want to wait another 25 years to get there.”

“I’m 68 and want to hit the ground running.”

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