Upskilling a key to workplace longevity for older workers
GAINING an edge in securing and retaining employment requires young Australians to hone their skills in digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and presentation along with expertise in a particular role.
All those skills are equally applicable to mature-aged workers, not just exclusively to the younger generations.
As the focus turns to how to keep older workers engaged in the workforce and how to upskill those same workers to meet the changing demands of an evolving workplace, the responsibility to meet these challenges lies both with the employees and the employers.
Changing the conversation
Workplace solutions company WDC Director Morag Fitzsimons uses the example of one of her clients which wanted to be proactive in keeping its older employees engaged - an industrial supplies and safety company with an average employee age of over 50.
"There has been some difficulty in retaining skills sets and getting replacement skills sets when people retire or leave the organisation," Ms Fitzsimons said.
The company recognised that it needed to work out how to help its employees to stay at work longer and how to have a conversation with them in a non-threatening way so they could be honest about their needs and future plans.
"Firstly, the program was about helping the older workers understand they were valued," Ms Fitzsimons said.
"Secondly, it was about having a conversation with them to identify what their needs were going to be into the future to help them stay at work longer."
She looked at the financial goals and physical health of the employees as well as flexibility in the number of work days and the need for training to help them transition to another role within the company.
"They (management) also walked around some of the operations and asked people what the simple things were that they needed to help them cope with their workplaces," she said.
"We looked at lighting, temperature, matting to make standing easier, to magnifying glasses, to make it easier to reach parts of products; so, what we could put into the workplace that would allow them to stay at work and make work easier than before.
"As a consultant in this area, I am seeing more and more businesses thinking about this and wanting to find ways to engage in conversations with their mature employees about work, the importance of work in their lives and how they can help support them to stay at work for their benefit as well as the individual employees."
Australia Post CEO and Managing Director Christine Holgate has been looking at how to repurpose Australia Post's extensive workforce to meet its changing business needs.
"For us, automation is allowing us to think about our workforce," Ms Holgate said at last month's Centre for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) forum in Melbourne."
"We can get more women in, more part-timers in and moving the guys who were driving onto the mail processing lines because it's less physical. It enables us to address where we have labour shortages in the market."
McKinsey & Company Associate Partner Hassan Noura said during the CEDA forum: "The workers most vulnerable to being disrupted are those in the more automated sectors as a first filter.
"Those will be the transport, warehouse, manufacturing, mining and all sorts of administrative tasks. The second filter will be functional tasks even within very professional sectors that are quite routine; think of administrative and payroll, accounting, and basic legal research. Even in medicine, some particular specialisations like radiology are incredibly susceptible to automation.
"So, while you can generalise and say it's going to be lower-skilled jobs in certain sectors, the reality is that there are going to be pockets of disruption everywhere.
"In terms of who will be more vulnerable, it will come down to resilience and adaptation."
Curtin University's Dr Gigi Petery has a different view on the impact of automation: "We have this idea that artificial intelligence (AI) is going to be taking over all the jobs and there is not going to be any work," she said.
"I don't think that is the case. What we have seen is a change in the nature of work and a change in the roles and tasks that people are doing.
"Yes, we are seeing AI taking over some jobs and tasks, but there are new tasks and jobs emerging as a result of that."
This keeps the door open to work opportunities for mature-aged workers.
There are industries starting to open up work opportunities such as service industries, particularly in jobs that can't be replaced by AI.
"There is always going to be people working with other people," Dr Petery said.
"Follow the population trend...look at what are the needs for ageing people and look at the renewable markets such as newborns."
Some of the industry opportunities across various skill levels are in health care, social services, education, technical, construction and retail.
David Tarr, from the mature-aged workforce talent matching agency maturious.com.au, said older workers' skills were their future.
"They have accumulated an enormous amount of knowledge, skills and experience which are transferable across many different industries and can be used in many different ways, as long as the individual has the ability or the desire to grow and learn because the world is changing...it will never stand still," Mr Tarr said.
Dr Petery added: "There are transferable skills which most mature people will already have just by living and having to interact with other human beings, such as different types of people skills."
The skills she lists that can give an older worker a competitive edge over younger workers are professionalism, loyalty, productivity, teamwork, organisational skills, time management, research, planning, communication skills including writing, speaking and listening.
"These are things that mature workers tend to do well," Dr Petery said.
Mr Tarr added: "As long as you have the aptitude and learnability, you will be successful."
Human Resources Director for hardware chain Bunnings, Jacqui Coombes, said its employees ages ranged from 15 to over 80.
"This provides fantastic learning and mentoring opportunities for everyone. Mature-aged workers have always played a significant role at Bunnings with almost 30 per cent of our team members aged over 50," Ms Coombes said.
"We learned a long time ago that older, more experienced team members are integral in providing the welcoming and knowledgeable customer service we offer in our stores.
"While Bunnings doesn't target older workers, we actively welcome and value the wide array of skills and knowledge mature-aged workers bring to the business and recognise the value this has in providing expert advice to our customers.
"Some have been with us for their whole career and others have joined us after retiring, often from trades.
"They can bring great experience from their own home improvement projects and this knowledge really helps our DIY."
Part 2 of this story, which will look at reverse mentoring and redundancy, will be published in the August edition.