ONE of the biggest challenges we face as a society is how best to support Australians as they get older. The rapidly ageing population is characterised by a desire for independence.
This is as relevant to workforce participation as it is to the policy decisions we make in health and aged care.
We think about the challenges that older people bring to the health and aged-care systems. Yet we don’t think nearly enough about tapping into their brains, using their skills, knowledge and experience. Older Australians are an invaluable resource.
We can learn much here from other cultures, such as many Asian cultures, and among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, where elders are treasured as experienced experts who continue to mentor and teach younger generations. Let’s bring this to the broader Australian society.
Older people have learned life-skills, and developed character traits such as patience, resilience, humility and good humour in difficulties.
They have wisdom. They don’t panic. They listen, learn and mentor.
The trends are positive. The participation rate of those aged 55 and over in the workforce has risen from 25 per cent to 34 per cent over the past 30 years.
This has to be a joint effort across society, from all levels of governments and employer organisations – including developing strategies around the right retirement income policies, including super and pensions; redressing incentives to early retirement; and providing job search and placement support for older job seekers.
Much work is yet to be done to draw on older Australians’ experience in the workforce – to be contributing to both their own wellbeing and sense of worth and the nation’s economic growth .
As a society, we need to change our perspective. We need to understand that old is not useless, or irrelevant. Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’ve run your race.
You’re still very much part of building the future, you are important, and Australia’s economy needs the experience of elders in the workforce.