With Australia’s unemployment rate at its lowest level for more than 40 years, bringing the prospect of rising wages, higher inflation and climbing interest rates with it, the solution to the workforce shortage problem is staring right at all of us.
I meet with older Australians all the time in my role. As a leading provider of high quality, relationship-based, in-home care in Australia, we employ a broad range of caregivers to engage with our clients, helping them with personal care, light household duties, and transport to appointments and social outings among many other things.
Our workforce ranges in age from 18 to 81 and while most of our caregivers are younger people, 10% of them are aged 65 or above. Our older caregivers are attracted to a role with Home Instead Australia because they are looking for purpose and a way to give back. Increasingly, working with us also provides extra income to top up their retirement earnings.
Many older women, in particular, have not been in a position to contribute as comprehensively to their superannuation savings as their male counterparts, so working for an income is actually a necessity.
Older workers are ideal for our industry, and I would suggest many others. Their level of experience is more than just skills gained through their past careers; they bring life experience and a level of emotional intelligence that only comes with time.
The beauty of gaining this ‘lived experience’ is that it can be shared with our younger caregivers through mentoring. Reverse mentoring also occurs with our younger caregivers developing confidence and leadership skills through helping our older staff build new skills, particularly in the area of technology.
In our experience, this intergenerational environment often results in more effective problem solving and brainstorming. It often leads to increased productivity. Many older Australians also report health benefits from their decision to remain in the workforce – it helps them to remain physically and mentally active, while reducing feelings of loneliness, isolation and diminishing self-worth.
The statistics show us more older Australians want to work for longer. In 2020/21, Australians aged 65 and over had a workforce participation rate of 14.8%, compared with 6.0% in 2000/01. Of these workers, three in five were men and two in five were women. Recent National Seniors research shows 20% of pensioners want to get back into work, an unsurprising fact given the increasing cost of living pressures facing this demographic. So what is stopping them?
One of the main reasons is the pension scheme. The stark reality is Australia’s pension scheme actively discourages pensioners from working. Under the Age Pension income test, a pensioner can earn an average of $480 a fortnight – or $12,840 a year – before their payments are reduced at an effective marginal tax rate of at least 50%.
It's hardly an incentive to look for extra work. And yet, older Australians are willing, very able, and plentiful. In fact, there are around 2.6 million full or part-time pensioners in Australia and only about 3.0% of them are currently working.
Take 65-year-old former registered nurse Lynette who currently works as one of our caregivers and would like to work two to three days a week in this role. Her husband passed away about 18 months ago and she knows she wants to work for another five years.
She describes her desire to give back to her community and is passionate about keeping older people engaged in work, but her passion is unable to be met without onerous financial penalty.
In the aged care sector, about a quarter of all shifts – around 140,000 – are often not filled. And we are not alone. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says “businesses of every size, in every industry, in every corner of the country, are experiencing the worst skill and labour shortages in more than two decades”.
I see the solution to this problem every day – in the faces of our older caregivers. Let’s make it easier for them to unretire by providing workplaces that welcome their wisdom, support their needs, and reward their contributions.
Georgia Downes is the chief operating officer of Home Instead Australia.Do you have an idea for a story?
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