Mind The Gap – New Zealand’s Ageing Workforce

May 14, 2020 10:52:11 AM

The shape of the New Zealand workforce has changed radically over the past 30 years and may well change again in ways not intended.

Workers aged 50+ comprised just 17% of the workforce (274,000) 30 years ago. By 2018 this has doubled to 34% or 887,000 people. Internationally NZ is ranked 2nd in the OECD for the participation of people aged 55+. We have around 44% of people aged 65-69 still working, 57% of this group working fulltime. People are staying on through choice and from necessity.

What will the shape of the NZ workforce look like in 12 months’ time? We have all seen the Treasury modelling. Will it be 5%, 10% unemployment or even higher? What we do know is that in previous economic downturns we have seen older workers disproportionately impacted.

Many older workers and business owners who find themselves out of work or underemployed will slip through the data gathering net if we rely on MSD data. Many older people do not register as a Job Seeker and of course once you are 65 you are not able to. Being in your 50’s, 60’s or 70’s and having your job prematurely end does not mean the desire or need to continue to work as you age will go away? How easy will it be to find work? The challenge is likely to be even greater than it has been as ageist stereotypes about older workers play out. Concerning is also the ways in which some may internalise these stereotypes and limit their options.

So, what will the future be? I suspect we will see increasing numbers of people who want to and need to work not being able to get work. What is their future social, health and financial trajectory? We will also see some individuals take charge and start micro-businesses while others will willingly or reluctantly disengage from the labour market and move into a premature retirement.  

Some employers who are letting people go are arranging for outplacement support assuming jobs are available, just not with them. But are they? And what chance will older workers have in a very competitive labour market? Others are not offering any support. We are yet to see a response that supports displaced workers to explore and find what is next for them.

The standard response of assisting older workers to update or even write for a first time a CV and to develop job search and interview skills may well be setting them up for frustration. We need a response that allows people to explore what the next stage of their lives might be and to create a future for themselves. Is that what is being offered?

There is a gap both in the data and the response, who will mind it?

This post has been reproduced with the permission of Geoff Pearman, www.partnersinchange.co.nz

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