[The Recruitment Of Older Australian Workers]

Michael Bittman, Mardi Flick, and James Rice, The Recruitment Of Older Australian Workers: A Survey Of Employers In A High Growth Industry, SPRC Report 6/01, Social Policy Research Centre, University Of New South Wales, Sydney, prepared for the Australian Government Department Of Family And Community Services, 2001, 141 pages.

Executive Summary

To better grasp the likely policy implications of the ageing population, it is important to understand both supply-side and demand-side phenomena associated with the labour market for mature-age workers. This research sheds new light on employers' views of and practices towards older workers. The special qualities of this study can be summarised under three headings - methodological innovations, original findings, and implications for social policy.

Methodological innovations
  • This survey samples employment decision-makers in Business Services, the industry with Australia's fastest growing employment. This industry has a reputation for providing employment opportunities for mature-age workers.
  • As a study of employers' attitudes it has the largest sample (over 1000 businesses compared with the Urbis Keys Young sample of 400) and the smallest sampling errors of any study undertaken in Australia.
  • The study focuses on the actual recruiting practices of employers, rather than duplicating the emphasis of earlier studies on attitudes alone.
  • It is the first study to explore the link between attitudes and recent recruitment decisions, using statistically sophisticated multivariate analysis.
Original findings
  • Small businesses are the greatest source of employment for mature-age workers - only 5 per cent of businesses employed 200 or more.
  • In contrast to other surveys, the SPRC study found that employers actually often prefer qualities assumed to be part of the negative stereotype of older workers. Despite their reputation for favouring younger, risk-taking innovators, the study revealed a preference for a diverse workforce of intelligent, reliable, team workers with industry rather than computing experience.
  • The age of the typical customer and the perceived age of best contribution to the business were key factors in selecting an older worker.
  • Employers do not hold negative views toward older workers who have been retrenched. They view people made redundant as experienced, but unlucky workers who deserve a second chance.
  • Employers regard mere eligibility for the age pension or superannuation packages as a poor reason to retire.
Policy implications
  • The study suggests policy initiatives should target small business employers.
  • Incentives, including wage subsidies, for the employment of mature-age people have the potential to influence recruitment decisions.
  • Employers currently recruit workers through personal networks and advertisements. They rarely make use of the services of employment agencies, although where agencies are well regarded their recommendations can be influential.
  • A program designed to maintain industry experience and skills, particularly computer skills, may increase mature-age people's employment opportunities.
  • Early intervention is crucial to maximising the job-readiness of the mature-age unemployed. Training in job search and interview skills may be effective policies for promoting the economic participation of older Australians.

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