Guest comment: Young guns only

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It's getting harder to source talent, therefore anyone would think older and more experienced workers could walk into work more easily than before. Not so, says Peter Tanner, founder and managing director of executive recruitment firm Tanner Menzies.

One of the great ironies about the current skills shortage is that so many mature-age workers are finding it hard to get a job.

A study by The Australia Institute in August 2006 found that most baby boomers expect to work after retirement. And this is not purely out of necessity - 17% want to work because of job satisfaction, and 38% just want to keep busy.

The challenge for employers - be they accountancy firms, banks, or in the investment industry - is to update their employment model and find better ways to put still-ready-and-willing mature-age people to work.

First, they simply need to be open to employing mature-age workers. They need to jettison myths that older workers are less flexible and won't fit in. Research shows that the opposite is true. Mature-age workers are also more loyal, with average tenures of five to six years compared to between 18 months and four years for Generations X and Y. According to both the World Health Organisation and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, they also take fewer sick days.

It is also untrue that mature-age workers are less productive. One of the most obvious qualities older employees possess in greater measure than their younger counterparts is experience. And the adage is right: there's no substitute for it. Mature-age workers achieve the same outcomes as younger workers by working smarter rather than harder.

Employers also need to get serious about attracting and retaining mature-age workers. This means getting creative with work structures. Mature-age workers place a premium on work-life balance, so look at opportunities for job sharing or flexible working hours.

But it's not a one-way street. On the worker side, mature-age people may need to consider retraining. While some may have moved into managerial positions in the course of their career, and may prefer to return to a more hands-on role, they may need to brush up on essential skills. A short technical training course could be all that's required for professionals. Of course, for proactive employers, offering these courses may be a very effective way to attract mature-age workers to their organisation by removing cost as a barrier to re-entering employment.

Mature-age workers should also look for new opportunities.

Applying existing skills and experience in a new way can be personally rewarding, and may take advantage of real demand. For example, a study by CPA Australia found that 59% of small business owners would be interested in hiring a qualified mature-age accountant on a short-term basis to provide them with general business advice.

Peter Tanner is the founder and managing director of executive recruitment consultancy Tanner Menzies. He is also a mature-age worker.

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