Are older Australians struggling to find work?

It always saddens me when people tell me they can’t find work because they are older. What exactly defines “older”? According to many I’ve spoken with, 50 is the magic number equating to a workplace definition of ‘older’, the year you start slipping a $50 in with your resume (please don’t do that). As I knock on that door I wonder if age will be a barrier to my employment pathway in coming years…

I do not have that insight as yet however I can tell you of my experiences of recruiting ‘older’ people through the lens of a 45 year old employer.

I’ve employed people on a full time, part time or contract basis since I was in my early 30s. I can tell you, hand on heart that age has never, ever been a determining factor for me in choosing the right person for the job.

The two things have been constant influences in my recruitment decisions have been (1) skill set and (2) attitude. And over the years I’ve become a whole lot better at spotting both factors.

I’ll always remember a conversation with someone in the community sector early in my career who told me she really didn’t care what qualifications people came to her with, she wanted people who would easily adapt to the way things ‘work around here’. Valuable advice which took me several unfortunate appointments to truly understand.

Still, the data supports the fact that past the age of 50 it is harder to find work in Australia and it’s likely it will be even more challenging post pandemic (so the stats say anyway).

So as a jobseeker aged 50+ how can you defy the data? Some ideas below;

  • Consider a career pivot. There is no doubt you’ve built a wealth of life and workplace skills through your years. Take some time to think through what may be transferable to jobs and industries that are new to you.
  • Consider self-employment. Do you have a skill set that could be bundled up into a business offering? You don’t have to start a business that employs a team of dozens, it may be just you, and you may rather like it that way. If you can hone in on your skill set and offer a package or blocks of your time to a variety of employers you may find you actually like this mode of employment even better than one job. Who knows, the gig economy may be a good fit for you.
  • Build your networks. People will go out of their way to assist you when you are motivated and looking for a hand up – not a hand out. If you don’t believe me just humour me and pretend I’m right for 3 weeks and see how your life shifts.
  • Look for an industry / employer you feel aligned to and ask them (not pester them) how you might go about fitting in with that industry, workplace or team. You’ll be surprised the result a respectfully placed question will garnish.
  • Check in on your mindset. Are you convinced there is only one way to do particular thing/s? This lack of flexibility will set of warning bells for employers (note, I’ve met quite young people who form these habits). We operate in dynamic times and your flexible approach (or the latter) will be noticed.
  • Your mindset again. Are you waking up every morning telling yourself you’re not going to find work because people judge your age? Return to the above mentioned point on networking and decide, just for 3 weeks the world is as is according to Kerry – aka your age is not a barrier.
  • Learn something. If you’re feeling stuck learn something – anything. When I had my first child I enrolled in an online aquaculture course. Hungry for new knowledge not even the dial up internet nor the fact I’d never be a fish farmer bothered me. The learning lit me up enabling all kinds of opportunities to come my way (and none of them smelt like fish).
  • Don’t waste your time with time wasters. Even services designed to help you to get work won’t always be the best fit for you. Go where they want to help you.
  • Forced to use a particular service that’s not working? Can’t shift it because of some silly red tape? In this case make a conscious choice to balance out the bad experience of this service provider with a good experience elsewhere – perhaps you can take some time to read something that inspires you, spend time with positive people or apply some of the abovementioned points. I know there are service providers out there who are designed for good but (unfortunately) do nothing but waste your time. However, I also know that there are generally good people working in those services who want to help you. Tell them what you need, built rapport (even if that means biting your tongue for a few moments) and ask what you need to do to turn your situation around. At the end of the day your win is theirs too so show them how they can help you.

This situation isn’t only about you though dear jobseeker, it’s also up to our businesses to lift their game and make room for people of all ages. I’ll write more on that soon. In the meantime, very best wishes with your jobseeking and if you feel so inclined please write about your challenges – wins – and add questions in the comments below.

Kerry Grace is a community engagement practitioner currently leading a regional development organisation in NSW Australia and managing her own company Evolve Group Network (est 2003).

Kerry’s work focuses on enabling economic sustainability in small regional communities. With a strong consultancy background she has worked with all levels of government, not for profits and Aboriginal corporations. She is often called upon for her facilitation skills to moderate pathways forward for contentious and complex issues.

Kerry regularly blurts words about accidental leadership, being a mum in business, self-care and adapting for an uncertain future.

Image credit: tim-mossholder-GOMhuCj-O9w-unsplash

Originally published on LinkedIn by Kerry Grace

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