Minister proposes that older workers take a year off to rejuvenate and consider how they will transition into retirement.
We are living longer than at any point in human history. This is leaving many nations, such as our own, with an ageing population. This is projected to have many implications, notably on the nation’s health, the working age population and housing.
From 1995 to 2015, the proportion of the population aged 65 or over increased by 3 per cent, and the proportion of those aged 85 or older nearly doubled from 1.1 per cent to 2 per cent.
Couple this with the fact that the proportion of the population younger than 15 decreased from 21.5 per cent to 18.8 per cent, and it looks like we could be facing a workforce shortage in the coming decades.
The minister for aged care and Indigenous health, Ken Wyatt, believes that elder Australians could, and should, solve any shortfalls in the workforce.
“I know the word ‘ageing’ still brings negative connotations, but I also believe it carries great potential,” he says.
“As a society, an economy, and in government, we must have a vision, adapt our thinking, and adjust our attitudes and our actions to reflect the opportunities that senior Australians have to offer.”
In a wide-ranging speech to the National Press Club recently, the minister touted a raft of aged care reform and government action that would secure an aged care workforce equipped to look after seniors, and empower them to live long fulfilling lives.
His speech covered ideas from improving safety in aged care, such as the implementation of unannounced visits, to innovative solutions to aged care living in this country.
One such idea is “small house living”. This interesting notion is based on a European concept. Residents share a house with eight people and are encouraged to cook, garden and live life like they would have in their own houses. This idea is designed to generate better health and financial outcomes.
“Fostering this kind of innovation is vital, and I believe that older Australians will drive demand for this type of care by voting with their feet,” Wyatt said.
70 Is the new 40
The minister suggested that Australia needs to adjust its attitudes to ageing and embrace working for longer.
“Today in 2017, I suggest that 70 is the new 40,” he said.
This is backed up by a recent study by the Australian National University, which found that Australians could have longer careers and stay healthier for longer if workplaces were more age-friendly to mature workers.
Researchers found that employment policies needed to change to give mature-aged workers more control over their work environment and retirement.
Wyatt believes that employers are neglecting an important job resource.
“What about the discrimination suffered by so many experienced older job seekers? This is truly devaluing the skills of senior Australians.
“To help these mature-age job seekers, we’re rolling out the new $98 million national Career Transition Assistance Program.”
The third age
Wyatt’s speech also included some out-of-the-box thinking. He believes we need to rethink the way we approach the transition from work to retirement.
“I think it’s time, given our increased longevity, that the concept of a ‘third age’ is re-examined. Perhaps we need a new transitional phase: not a sudden stop to working, but a gradual approach – transitioning into retirement.”
He cites the National Ageing Research Institute, which argues that there is no set age at which we become less able to work. Frailty, for most of us, will not set in until we hit 80.
Wyatt thinks that his own life experience has given him the answer, and it could be an attractive proposition to those unsure about retirement.
He believes that a “senior’s gap year” could be the solution.
“Like teenagers have done for decades, as they plan their studies and career paths, this “gap year” could allow older people to map out their future while maintaining job security.”
Aged Care Insite sat down with Wyatt to discuss these ideas and his vision for encouraging increased employment among senior Australians.
ACI: In your Press Club speech, you equate longer lives with longer working lives. How do we encourage a greater level of employment in the older age group going forward?
KW: Now that we have started, we must keep the national conversation on this going because, given Australia’s rapidly increasing proportion of seniors, we will need more older workers in the future. I have welcomed comments from leading industry groups about the need to better empower employers and their older staff, to work out flexible arrangements that best meet their needs.
Taking a physical, mental and social break from the workplace, taking leave without pay and going and doing some other things you want to do, enables you to rejuvenate and then be enthused about coming back to your role.
How do we change attitudes towards our elder Australians, especially in the eyes of employers?
The Turnbull government is already focused strongly on this, with our $110 million Mature Age Employment Package, announced in the 2017 Budget.
The major component of this is the new Career Transition Assistance Program to help people over the age of 50 forge new career paths and opportunities. They are a vital and often undervalued asset for our local community and economy, and an important part of this program will be helping businesses understand and capitalise on the wealth of life skills, experience and dependability offered by older workers.
You have proposed the idea of a gap year for potential retirees. Where did this idea come from?
The gap year concept formed as I visited men’s sheds and during forums I’ve held with seniors, where people have told me they regretted retiring. Some say their reasons are financial, but many of the concerns are centred on self-worth and boredom.
Some have told me they’re trying to get back into the workforce, but are being told they’re “too experienced” or “overqualified”. They’re frustrated because, as one woman said to me: “I thought I had planned for my retirement financially, but I just don’t have the finances.” And that has become a challenge for her, and she really is now looking at any type of job to give herself the quality of life that she’d been used to in her later years of working.
How will the government guarantee their acceptance back into the workforce?
This is not about forcing businesses to continue employing older workers but about working together on the great opportunities for us to rethink the value of senior Australians, who still have so much to offer.
We already have leave in other forms – long service leave, annual leave, etc – and people take these and they are reinvigorated. Before people retire, it would be good to see the talented individuals we have in every workplace retained so that companies, service sectors and industry can continue to grow, because when we let people out of the workforce, we lose some incredible skills that have been accumulated over 60-plus years.
Finally, Minister, you are 65. Where are you going on your gap year?
I actually took mine early. After working as a teacher, then in senior management roles in Indigenous health in both the West Australian and NSW governments, I decided to take a gap year after I turned 50.
During those 12 months, I was able to read a lot, rejuvenate and consider my options, and that’s when I decided to take my career in a new direction – politics. But I think I’ll eventually need another gap year because I’m hoping to continue living life to the full, for a long time to come.Do you have an idea for a story?
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