10 July 2015

Understanding the implications of our ageing population

Author :
It is predicted that by 2030, there will be a global shortage of 30 to 40 million highly skilled workers as 38 million employees will transition to retirement. There is widespread concern about the impact of the ageing workforce on productivity.  
I recently sat down with Rafal Chomik - Senior Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellent in Population Ageing research and the opening speaker at the upcoming Models to Support the Ageing Workforce conference to discuss the implications of our ageing population. 
Here’s what he had to say…
Luana: First of all, thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule to speak to me.
Rafal, what is the most important thing for HR professionals and company leaders to know with respect to Australia’s ageing population?
Rafal: Understanding population and workforce trends is a starting point. But there are issues on the ground to think about that can act as barriers to employment of older workers.
While unemployment rates for older workers are relatively low, duration of unemployment increases with age. So the recruitment process can be a factor. When recruiting it’s worth making sure that both overt and subtle instances of age discrimination have been avoided. Not using an age range for a vacancy is an obvious measure, but describing the work environment or the company as ‘young and dynamic’ – words that may roll off the tongue together – or ruling people out for being ‘over qualified’ can be more subtle forms of age discrimination. The result could be that good people are discouraged or overlooked.
Luana: I see, recruitment plays a very important role. Rafal, what will be the biggest implications of the ageing population on Australian businesses?
Rafal: Firstly there is the broader macroeconomic and government policy context. But the two direct channels through which firms are likely to experience demographic change is via their workforce and their customer base.
Governments have been using the welfare and retirement income system to incentivise older people to keep working and to increase the supply of mature-age workers. So we have these policy levers that are increasing the supply of labour, but little has been done about the demand for it. It’s not clear how prepared the business community is to tap this resource and tackle barriers to mature-age employment from the side of the employer, ranging from health and caring barriers through to skills and training considerations.
We don’t know that employers have thought enough about the necessary adaptations to workplace culture and employment terms to make them flexible enough for older workers. And while many are thinking about Australia’s place in the Asian century, and the potential markets there, we need to realise that Asia, including China, is ageing faster than many western countries.
Luana: Yes interesting point, it’s certainly not just Australia that is ageing. So, what should we know about the global ageing phenomena?
Rafal: Most people know the population is ageing. But it’s fascinating to delve into the topic and unpack the causes, trends and implications.
In describing the scale of these demographic changes it’s difficult not to use superlatives. The average Australian lifetime is longer than it has ever been. There are more older people than ever and they make up the highest proportion of the population than they ever have.
Not only is population ageing unprecedented. It is also pervasive, because it is taking place in almost every country in the world. It is enduring, because even after the effect of the baby-boom passes we will not be going back to a demographically younger world. It is profound, because it will change how we finance our retirement, how we design our cities, and how we re-imagine the world of work.
Luana: So we’re talking big implications for individuals as well as governments and workplaces across the board.
Rafal, thank you for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you and we look forward to hearing more insights from you at our upcoming Models to Support the Ageing Workforce conference.
From a young age Luana wanted to become a teacher. She would line up her teddies in a row and teach them for hours on end. However, she eventually grew tired of their nonchalance and has ended up leading a team of producers instead- which she finds far more fulfilling and stimulating!  
Luana comes from an experienced production and management background. She has produced and topic generated events across Asia and Australia.
Luana enjoys learning about emerging trends and drivers for change and loves the notion of the 'butterfly effect'- that change can start small but grow immeasurably through a ripple effect.

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