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Report Warns on Age-Based Stereotypes in the Workforce

21 July 2017 at 1:36 pm
Lina Caneva
Public commentary and advocacy regarding older workers has often exaggerated their problems and made use of age-based stereotypes in efforts to overcome them, according to a new Australian report.

Lina Caneva | 21 July 2017 at 1:36 pm


Report Warns on Age-Based Stereotypes in the Workforce
21 July 2017 at 1:36 pm

Public commentary and advocacy regarding older workers has often exaggerated their problems and made use of age-based stereotypes in efforts to overcome them, according to a new Australian report.

Per Capita’s latest major research report, What’s Age Got To Do With It? Towards A New Advocacy on Ageing and Work, found that advocacy for older workers had focused on age discrimination even though reported levels were relatively low and it was younger workers who reported the most age-based discrimination.

“Age-based stereotypes such as loyal, reliable, and wise are often used by older people’s advocates in order to promote older workers’ employment,” research fellow at Per Capita Professor Philip Taylor said.

“But research has shown that these ageist stereotypes may be reinforcing already existing negative views of older workers among employers.

“The report reframes the discussion about Australia’s ageing workforce, challenging dominant narratives and asking new questions.”

Taylor told Pro Bono News he was not particularly surprised by the report’s findings.

“Advocacy generally, and not just the advocacy groups like COTA in Australia but also public policy makers, is where public policy is underdeveloped in this case,” Taylor said.

“There is a lot of casual ‘ageism’ that is thrown around. Think about the Willingness to Work inquiry. [It was] an inquiry into age discrimination but it was [about] age discrimination against people over 50. That’s a great irony.

“Nobody seemed to think that young people might be subjected to ageism… or even 49 year olds.

“I think age has been co-opted by the older people’s advocacy organisations and we need to look at the issue much more broadly. We need to think much more about generational solidarity.”

He said one of the report’s observations was around the previous age discrimination commissioner who also had the role as the older workers advocate.

“So she had both positions but it seems to me you could have one but not the other,” Taylor said.

“All together I think advocacy here is incredibly modelled in this space and I think it needs to sort its own house out.”

Taylor said that while finding that age discrimination was less of a problem than was commonly portrayed, the report warned of a massive challenge facing Australia’s ageing workforce from artificial intelligence and robotics.

“By 2031 it may make up to two and a half million older workers redundant. Not only will they be out of work but their skills will be outdated. At the same time, approximately an equal number of younger workers will also have been made redundant,” Taylor said.

The report called for the development of a national workforce ageing strategy; the abandonment of the government’s failed flagship older worker scheme – Restart –  to be replaced by a wage subsidy and a job guarantee for older workers; and the refocusing of the education system on adult continuing education.

Taylor singled out Restart as an illustration of where public policy was at.

“Restart and its Labor predecessor failed dismally.The take-up was in the low thousands. The money that was allocated was to fund 32,000 placements and they got absolutely nowhere near that,” he said.

“What we are saying is that we know that these sorts of programs stigmatise workers… and you are telling employers that older people are so much of a problem and workers have to pay you to take them on. What we are saying is why not give the subsidy to the worker similarly to a UK program. It did get people into work.

“Frankly I have not seen much in the way of innovative policy proposals and I think this report does offer that.

“I think there is a lot in this report that should be picked over by both parties because there has been a singular lack of policy debate on this issue in Australia. It’s high time to get serious about the issue.”

Taylor said the other issue was what to do about tomorrow’s older workers.

“The tendency is to be myopic… but there is a need to talk about young people in casualised employment and how they are going to accrue retirement wealth and as far as I am aware there is almost no thinking about this at all. What are we going to do for them?” he said.

“We are in a ‘casualising’ workforce so I don’t see the advocacy organisations having a thing to say about this.

“This not just an Australian problem. Governments internationally are grappling with this issue. But I would say policy making in other countries is rather more advanced than in Australia. You have to look at Germany for instance and the UK and more recently Finland who have been very active. We have been well behind.”

Download the report here.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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