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Older Australians faced with barriers to re-entering the workforce

Ageism, pension rules and scarce age-appropriate job opportunities have been identified as the main barriers for older Australians trying to return to the workforce.

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National Seniors wants to see employers redesigning jobs to be less physically demanding or more flexible to help bring in a workforce of older Australians. [Source: Shutterstock]

National Seniors Australia, peak advocacy group for older people, surveyed over 3,000 Australians aged 50 and over about the issues they have faced attempting to get back into work.

While the survey report, Older Australians’ Perspectives on Working After Retirement, found that a majority of those surveyed want to remain retired (63 percent), it also found just under 20 percent of retirees do want to start work again but are confronted with barriers.

National Seniors believes that barriers to the workplace have been little understood or reported on, but this survey has identified 14 different barriers older people face.

Previous research from the peak advocacy group found that one in three retirees wanted to or had returned to the workforce, but the major hurdle for older people was the Age Pension income test requirements.

Chief Executive and Director of Research at National Seniors, Professor John McCallum, says with 21 percent of the survey’s participants saying that the Age Pension was a big issue when it came to re-entering the workforce, it backs the organisation’s current 'Let Pensioners Work' campaign that calls for changes to the Pension requirements.

"The punitive nature of these rules, particularly in a time of dire labour shortage, needs immediate attention," says Professor McCallum.

"We are overlooking an entire workforce of people with experience, not just in their chosen profession but real-world experience, who are willing and entirely able to reintegrate back into employment.

"They are being overlooked because of a range of factors including ageism, Government rules and narrow ideas about what older workers can offer."

Another major issue for older people looking to return to work was ageist attitudes from workplaces, with 36 percent saying their prospective employer either mentioned age or alluded to it.

The research also reflects a lack of appropriate opportunities for older workers, with around 14 percent of participants experiencing this type of issue.

One survey respondent said that during their own job search, the job agency they had been involved in didn't assist in referring them to a job position for over 18 months. They were over 60 at the time of looking for a job.

National Seniors wants to see employers redesigning jobs they have available to be less physically demanding or more flexible to help bring in a workforce of older Australians during current worker shortages.

Not only do older Australians have a lot of skills and experience to provide the workforce, the survey found that 19 percent of those who returned to work benefit both physically and mentally.

Survey participants believed returning to the workforce kept them active, was "fun", maintained their current skills and abilities, helped them achieve and learn new skills, and kept them in a regular routine.

Those who returned to the workforce were also doing so for financial reasons, with 52 percent of participants saying money was a motivation to work again.

For participants on the Pension, this number increased to around 60 percent highlighting money as a reason for returning to work.

With the current rising cost of living and financial stresses, returning to work would help older Australians create a financial buffer for unexpected costs, like medical bills, and provide more financial comfort and sustainability in retirement.

Professor McCallum explains, "What this shows is that there is a positive, collective benefit to our society by keeping older Australians engaged through employment.

"Not everyone in retirement wants to go back to work and nor should they be pushed into it, but the number who do should not be ignored. And we should not forget the large numbers of older Australians who also volunteer and provide care at home.

"We need to overcome the ‘use-by-date’ mentality we apply to many older people in the workforce and instead of thinking they’re past it, we should be thinking how we can put all that wealth of experience and enthusiasm to work."

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