Mature Age Workers and Ageism in the Workplace
Date: 29 September 2022
Media: Today Extra, Channel Nine, National Australian Television
Story: Mature Age Workers and Ageism
Hosts: David Campbell and Sylvia Jeffreys
Guest: Sue Ellson
On 29 September 2022, I was invited to appear on Channel Nine’s Today Extra Program to talk about Mature Age Workers and Ageism in the workplace. A recording of the segment is below.
I have written about this topic in various ways and you are welcome to check out the following links.
Tough love for unemployed people over the age of 50
Are you a guru or a dinosaur?
Can unemployment be good for you?
Multiple job search strategies
Here is the LinkedIn Post with some great comments too
But let’s dive a bit deeper here now…
Do you believe there is ageism in the Australian workforce?
- Feel most comfortable with people 10 years older or younger
- Have an unconscious or conscious bias
- Have had a previous bad experience
- Have always hired people with a similar background
- Have maintained the same recruitment techniques for years
I remember being in recruitment in my 20’s and thinking anyone over the age of 30 was ‘old.’ It is no different now. Most of us feel most comfortable with people who are 10 years older or younger than us – so if we understand that we have this unconscious (or even conscious) bias, then we can start to think about engaging with people outside this age range.
If an employer has had a bad experience with an older worker, they may be reluctant to consider it again.
Some employers always use the same recruitment strategy – and if it is outsourced, may be relying on the techniques recommended by recruiters. One recruiter I spoke to said that anyone over 40 would not be considered for a Chief Marketing Officer (if it involved social media marketing) but just because someone may be a digital native, it doesn’t make them a digital expert.
Why do you think older workers are missing out on job opportunities?
- Not describing your skills
- No recent training or updating of skills
- Not networking with employers or the industry
- Not using LinkedIn or other networks to attract opportunities
- Not making direct approaches to local enterprises close to home
Many do not know how to describe their value in ways that are relevant for the role. Once again, if you are referred in, then the resume or LinkedIn Profile is only used to verify your skills, not to have you compete against multiple other applicants.
Some people assume that their past extensive experience will automatically be relevant and they may not have completed any further study for a long time.
There are many free (LinkedIn Learning with a local library card and https://www.mooc.org) and low cost study options and you can then add this to your resume and LinkedIn Profile – it shows you are willing to learn. There are multiple local, state and federal government programs for both training and job search.
Some people have unrealistic expectations and say that employers only want younger workers. But some older workers with extensive experience do not want to work for $25 per hour and full time. There are opportunities for expertise to be paid on a day or hourly rate.
Many people stay in a role for a long time but do not build their network outside of their current employer so when they lose their role, they lose their income and all of their connections at once. Now could be the time to start networking again and developing new relationships.
If you keep using the same techniques and they are not working, you need to change your techniques.
Many people do not reach out to enterprises close to home. You can prepare a one page introduction letter that you print, fold and drop into local businesses and see what happens.
What are the best ways for older workers to secure work?
- Learn job search skills
- Start networking
- Ask for referrals
- Do voluntary work in your area of expertise
- Make a LinkedIn Profile that allows you to be found
- Make sure you list a current position even if you are not in paid work now
I would say that most people have been taught how to do a job, not how to find a job. A one page resume sent to an online job ad is not the best way to find work especially when anywhere between 70 and 90% of jobs are never even advertised.
How can you get around Artificial Intelligence Tools and Applicant Tracking Systems?
I have been of the belief, for many years, that if an employer does not want to hire me because of my age, then I am not interested in the employer. So I don’t hide the dates of my university study or my first employer (where I started working full time six days after my final secondary school examination).
I say this because even if you pass the ‘first round’ by adjusting your age, you may find that you are still discriminated when you attend an interview (which in my view, would feel worse).
However, if you do want to ‘game’ the system, here are some general tips:
- only use plain and bold text in one font style (so that all of your content can be read)
- do not use text boxes, graphics, images etc (so that all of your content can be read)
- focus on the skills and values you offer that are aligned with the role on the first page (tailoring your application for each role and enterprise)
- do not rely on the cover letter to be specific – make sure your keywords are in the resume or curriculum vitae and LinkedIn Profile
- make sure the content is correct on all records (months, dates, names all match between resume or CV and LinkedIn)
- include some recent micro credentials that are aligned with the role (not just formal study from more than 20 years ago)
- ensure you have a ‘current role’ even if you are still applying (call it Career Research) as the system usually prefers someone who is currently working
- whilst you may choose to only include the last 10 years of your work history, you may have many other keywords and other roles that could also provide great keywords – so you may like to group these dates but still showcase your experience
- focus on achievements as well as tasks as these are an indicator of future performance
- repeat target keywords in multiple roles for a higher ‘ranking’ of experience
For more personalised assistance in this area, please arrange a personal appointment.
For anyone with any type of disadvantage, the best ways to secure work are through
. networking – reaching out to people you know or meet out and about
. referrals – asking those people to refer you to someone else as you have an ‘established’ relationship
. volunteer work – ideally in your area of expertise – not working for free, but to get you out of the house and once again, networking and getting referrals
. LinkedIn Profile – focused on how you can help and the value you provide – your headline needs to be filled with keywords
If you are not currently working, I suggest that you add in a job title of ‘Career Research – Job Title, Areas or Expertise etc’ on your resume and/or LinkedIn Profile so that the algorithm doesn’t see you as unemployed.
What can employers do to make their workplaces more suitable for older workers?
- Provide part time or job share roles
- Make it very clear exactly what they need (not nice to have)
- Allow time for training – may be slower to learn but can systemise
- Reflect on their other benefits (emotional intelligence)
- Develop more multi-age teams
- Consider an Open Hiring policy
- Do fun activities together outside the workplace
- Provide flexible working hours and location
- Ask the person what they would like to have at work
Older workers, once they understand the role in detail, can often develop systems to be more efficient. Some younger people can be ‘faster’ processing new information but not have the foresight to see how to streamline tasks over time. Alternatively, they may be willing to ‘fail fast’ but also make significant mistakes along the way.
Job sharing allows two people with different skill sets to add more options to the mix. As a consultant working across multiple organisations and industries, I often cross-pollinate ideas and suggestions across multiple workplaces.
Despite jobs changing so much in the future, one of the most important skills to acquire is emotional intelligence – the ability to communicate and lead diverse workplaces can create diverse conversations and diverse opportunities.
Multi-age teams can mentor and reverse mentor one another and provide wisdom to one another.
The Body Shop developed an Open Hiring policy of only asking four questions for a casual Christmas Job: are you legally allowed to work in Australia, can you lift up to 11 kilograms, work an eight-hour shift, and be happy to work with customers? Applicants were taken on based on the date they applied rather than any other criteria. https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/retail/the-body-shop-adopts-bold-new-recruitment-plan-in-place-of-traditional-resumes-and-references/news-story/79d87dc05b25a9660fa19d23fa9b5d96
Fun activities can help people bond and share and develop trust and respect.
Flexible hours allow for any caring responsibilities, other commitments or even golf days! This can help people of all ages. Being non-ageist means you are creating a universal design that can support many different types of people including those with other challenges.
Every person can provide input on ‘how they work best.’ Keeping conversation lines open can be very helpful.
Where can people go to get extra help to get back into the workplace?
- Hire a professional career specialist https://cdaa.org.au
- Mature Age Workers hub https://www.dewr.gov.au/mature-age-hub/employing-mature-age-workers
- My Future – for career tools and professional association details https://myfuture.edu.au
- Find out what support is available through your local council https://alga.com.au/resources/local-government-associations/
- Find out what is available through your state government ie https://djpr.vic.gov.au/what-we-do/employment-programs
- Ask at your local library, community or neighbourhood house
Recruiters act on behalf of employers, not on behalf of candidates.
Remember that you want to find the right fit employer, not just any job…so be clear on what you can do, what you can offer and then go looking for someone who needs what you can provide.
Start small and build up. Let employers ‘try before they buy’ but not work for free and if you can, do it close to home so you can really feel part of your community.
Keep making new friends and getting out and about in the world – it is very easy to end up on a negative spiral. Buddy up with someone who will support you, not commiserate with you. Stay optimistic, take ownership and never give up!
Over 100,000 older Australians are eager to re-join the workforce but sadly they face a multitude of road blocks from the application process onwards. Career Expert, Sue Ellson joins us from Melbourne with her advice for mature aged workers. Good morning to you Sue, thanks for joining us. Hi.
Ageism is still a huge issue isn’t it, in workplaces and recruitment? Why is that? Well I think there is a number of reasons. Obviously a lot of people are definitely feeling as they get older that they’re not as listened to as much but also a lot of people are accustomed to working with people of a similar age. Generally speaking, between 10 years older or younger than yourself and also sometimes they either have a conscious or unconscious bias. And I’ve got one client who’s in her 70’s, she is working full time, she hasn’t had a holiday for the whole year but she is actually covering for much younger people who went on holidays and came back unwell.
Right. Well I mean there are so many other older Aussies who are desperate to get back to work, we’re hearing it with government saying we need that grey army to come in so how should these Aussies go about hunting a job? Well there’s a number of things that they can do and I think that one of the most important things is to remember that doing a job is a very different skill set to getting a job. So up until now, you may have got most of your jobs through friends, family members, even applying online, but up to 90% of jobs are never even advertised. So being able to think about the skills that you really need to get a job, that’s what’s going to be important. Do you have a LinkedIn Profile? Have you done any training recently? Have you adopted a resume that actually includes the skills and the values that you can offer? And one of the most important is your emotional intelligence. What about the application process then? What are some of the common mistakes that people make and how can you stand out? Well you really have to be able to describe that value. What an employer wants is someone that can come in and do the work straight away. So, bringing that up to date. A lot of people in the older category may not have a LinkedIn Profile. Up to 60% of the people on LinkedIn are under 34, so getting your details on there. Making sure you list that you’ve got a current research that you’re doing on a career. Maybe doing some micro credentials. There’s lots of free and low cost online and in person courses available and finding out what other supports are available as well.
When it comes to the workplace, what can employers do to provide a better workspace for older workers? Look I think a good workplace is a good workplace for any age person and so lots of people want flexible hours, not just older people, but younger, job sharing is a fantastic way if somebody wants to work two days and three days you’ll get a lot of cross pollination between the workers. I believe a multi-age and multi-background workforce is the best one and it’s going to bring that amazing diversity to the workplace and lots of extra benefits from just doing that and of course, having fun. That’s also important. Crucial.
And where can older Australians go for extra help returning to the workforce? Well I think you need to remember that a recruiter is working on behalf of the employer not on behalf of the candidate so a career development professional is a good place to start. The federal government has a mature age workers hub, there are other resources provided by state and local council, government and then there’s also a lot of online resources on how to find a job so there’s plenty of help out there. Find out what’s available in your local community and just remember that the three best ways to get work if you have any level of disadvantage are through networking, referrals and voluntary work aligned with your skill set. So it doesn’t mean you have to help out in a soup kitchen to get a job. It means that you work in the area where you do have some of that expertise. Alright Sue, great to have your insight on that, thanks so much for your time. Thanks Sue. Stay with us. When we return, the latest news headlines.
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