Being experienced doesn’t necessarily lead to employment. Samantha Robin and Lee Opitz discover the trials and tribulations of finding work as a mature-age job seeker.
They say age is just a number, but as you reach your early 50s and 60s, it can be a number that makes a big difference to employers.
It’s something an increasing number of mature-age job seekers are up against after finding themselves out of a job in these tough economic times.
Looking for work at an age beyond what some employers might consider a person’s prime is a concept Mt Eliza resident Rob Chesney is familiar with.
In November, Mr Chesney, 62, was told the company he was working for couldn’t afford to keep him on.
Not yet eligible for the federal government’s age pension, he was forced to make cuts to the household budget as he and his wife returned to a single-income family. At the moment his only income is the $600 a month he gets from the odd consultancy job.
A qualified printer who used to earn more than $86,000 a year and was at the forefront of developing technology for security printing, including the latest version of the national birth, death and marriage certificates, Mr Chesney is willing to accept a reasonable job in the printing field that will keep him busy and maintain a reasonable standard of living.
‘‘I just want to be able to continue to contribute to society and have something to do that gets me out of the house,’’ he says.
‘‘At the ripe young age of 62, I want to work and make a difference in the community and I feel I am still capable of doing that. There is an element in me that isn’t ready to lie down yet.’’
He has looked for work on a number of job sites, including seniorsearch.com.au, to try and find something suitable.
Set up by Mt Martha resident Horst Marcinsky six years ago, the website allows mature-age workers, typically 45 years and over, to upload their CVs and notifies them of suitable positions which come up.
The website also enables employers to advertise positions for mature-age workers or to view CVs of suitable job seekers, for a fee.
Mr Marcinsky believes there aren’t enough employers looking to take on mature-age employees.
‘‘It doesn’t occur to a lot of employers to take on older workers. I think the way mature-age people are being treated just isn’t fair.’’
He says older workers have a lot to offer employers in terms of knowledge and experience.
‘‘It’s extremely hard for them to find work; they have such an enormous wealth of experience that nobody taps into.
‘‘Employers think mature-age workers go hand-in-hand with large pay cheques but that isn’t always the case. There are many mature-age workers who are willing to work for a lot less than they have worked for in the past, just to have a job.
‘‘We are struggling with the attitudes of companies — they never say they are looking for someone younger, but you can tell.’’
It is a sentiment echoed by the Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan, who last week released a discussion paper titled Working Past Our 60s: Reforming Laws and Policies for the Older Worker.
Ms Ryan says insurance is among the barriers facing older people in the workforce.
‘‘Most workers’ compensation stops at 65, or soon after, and income insurance is hard to get after 60,’’ she says.
“This is a big barrier for tradespeople who need to insure their business and themselves.’’
Many older people are willing and able to work but unable to find suitable employment.
“Recent research tells us that, of people aged over 55, there are about two million who are capable and want to work, but are barred from jobs,” she says.
Ms Ryan attributes age prejudice as the underlying issue — ‘‘These are things that can be changed by the federal and state governments in their approach to an ageing workforce and also by the insurance industry in terms of their policies.’’
Consciously or subconsciously, many employers are prejudiced against older workers and action needs to be taken to change those attitudes.
‘‘As of today the average life expectancy is over 80 for women and slightly less for men. Many people will live into their 90s; if you leave work at 60 what are you going to do for the next 30 years?
‘‘There is the impression that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but research shows the brain can continue to learn new things for as long it is healthy.
‘‘People who have had several decades of experience know a lot about what they are doing, they know what the employer expects of them and what the company needs and they are capable of making a valuable contribution.’’
Ms Ryan also points out that with the diminishing value of superannuation and the government’s proposal to lift the age limit for the age pension from 65 to 67, by July 1, 2023, many people feel compelled to keep working later in life.
Frankston resident Ron Paulsen, 62, who has no intention of retiring soon, took a big gamble when he quit his job.
In 2008 — after 33 years in supermarket management — he walked away and considered his next career move.
‘‘Long hours and shift work took their toll and the quality of family life was suffering. I had injured my back after so many years of lifting boxes and I had wanted to leave earlier, but the kids were still at school and it wasn’t worth the risk,’’ Mr Paulsen says.
‘‘I wasn’t trained for anything else, had no skills and no other experience.’’
He concedes that changing careers at 58 wasn’t easy.
‘‘The older you get, the harder it is. With no qualifications you are restricted to labouring, but often the body can’t take it and there’s bugger-all building jobs around anyway.
‘‘Over the years I’d seen how hard it was for older workers to get jobs. Once you hit the upper 40 or 50 mark it’s almost impossible to get work and many would head to the supermarket industry because they couldn’t get jobs anywhere else.
‘‘Self-employment is an option, but you have to be motivated to get up and get moving.’’
A bit of a handyman, Mr Paulsen looked around for something he would enjoy and, with encouragement from a carpenter mate, decided to join the Grey Army, a home and property maintenance franchise.
It was a big investment in an uncertain future — $20,000 for the franchise fee and an exclusive area of Grey Army clients, plus the expense of buying a new trailer and tools.
For Mr Paulsen, the investment has paid off and he now has a job he enjoys and a good work-life balance.
‘‘I do a bit of everything, from changing a washer to kitchen renovations. We now have a great family life, I can choose when I work, have the fallback of the Grey Army call centre when things are a bit slow and [also] a network of trusted tradies, including my son, who is a qualified builder and can help me do bigger jobs.
‘‘Starting my own business was a big commitment at the time. But in hindsight it was the best thing we ever did.’’