Release type: Speech


Address to the Hobart Corporate Champions Seminar


The Hon Kate Ellis MP
Minister for Employment Participation
Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care

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[Acknowledgments omitted]

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Corporate Champions Lunch here in Hobart.

This is an event focused on the need to boost mature-aged workforce participation—but I am also here offering Government support to help you do just that.

I hope this event today is the start—or even better, the continuation—of a journey for your organisations. A journey towards breaking down employment barriers for mature-age workers, but also, an exercise in recognising that employing mature-age people makes good business sense—and can meet both goals of being the right thing to do—but also the smart thing to do.

There would not be a week that goes by without me being contacted by a constituent about the problems they are having finding work as a mature-age Australian. I know I am not alone in this regard. I hear a very similar story from MPs right across the country.

We are hearing from people who talk about the humiliation that they feel after being constantly overlooked. They talk about how belittling it is not to have the skills and experience that they have built up over decades of hard work recognised. They talk about feeling angry—and of being thrown on the scrap heap when they have so much more to give—and indeed so much longer to live.

Ultimately, the facts back up these anecdotes. Whilst mature-age Australians are less likely than the rest of the population to be officially unemployed, when people do find themselves out of work, it takes them more than twice as long to find a new job.

This isn’t just unfair, it’s plain dumb.

As I am sure everyone is this room is well aware, Australia is undergoing a very significant demographic change—we're getting older.

By 2020 there will be twice as many 65-year-olds as there were in 2009, and five times as many 85-year-olds. And by 2050 there'll be 50,000 Australians who notch up a century.

Last year, people aged over 55 were around 16 per cent of the labour force, compared with 10 per cent in 1980. And by 2050 nearly 20 per cent of the labour force will be aged over 55.

That's a fifth of Australia's workers we simply can't afford to do without.

When the pension age was set at 65 in 1908, most workers didn't live much past their 65th birthday. Now, we can expect that most people are youthful at 65, and will live for 20 or 30 years beyond retirement age.

Our longer life expectancy brings an enormous opportunity—both for individuals and for business.

That is, of course, if we change our thinking, and change our approach.

Addressing barriers to mature-age participation in the workforce is very important, and nowhere more so than here in Tasmania—the state with the highest average age.

In Tasmania, job opportunities for people over 50 have increased by 2.7 per cent over the last year and 20 per cent over the last five years.

But it’s not all good news. While losing a job at any age can be a frightening and challenging experience, it can be even more difficult for mature-age people to break back into employment. I know that mature-age people who have been retrenched, or who have been out of the labour market for extended periods, are doing it tough.

Nationally, it takes an average of 77 weeks for mature-age job seekers to find work—more than twice as long as their younger counterparts. And while the gap here in Tasmania is smaller with older people out of work for 60 weeks on average, in some cases people give up.

Over such a long time, the constant battle to maintain motivation, sell your skills and qualifications, and probably hardest of all, maintain your self-esteem, would be exhausting.

These figures show that there is a compelling case for change.

This is why our Government is focused on programs and policies that will boost mature-age participation and grow our economy.

Our commitment to breaking down barriers in this area is fierce.

Labor appointed Susan Ryan AO as the first Age Discrimination Commissioner in 2011, and increased funding.

We have also asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to examine all Commonwealth law for discrimination against older Australians, with a report expected this year.

And in order to better understand how government policy should break down barriers to mature-age participation in the workforce, we established the Consultative Forum on Mature-Age Participation, made up of business, community and policy leaders.

At the first Corporate Champions breakfast in Brisbane last year, the Treasurer and I released the forum’s final report, as well as Australia’s first national survey on the employment barriers faced by mature-age workers and job seekers.

The findings of both the report and the survey will be pivotal to policy development, and chart a positive direction for government, business, and the community in breaking down barriers for mature-age workers.

The survey was an Australian-first, managed by National Seniors Australia’s Productive Ageing Centre—and taken by more than 3000 Australians aged between 45 and 74, including workers, job seekers and those not in the labour force.

It confirmed the lived experience of so many Australians. Many mature-age workers don’t want to retire, they just want work that fits around their family responsibilities.

Attracting and retaining mature-age workers is largely about flexibility—particularly for caregivers.

It’s about creating a willingness to change how we do business, and then being supported to make it happen.

Research shows that mature-age workers can deliver an average net benefit of around $2000 per year to their employer compared to other workers.

This is due to high retention rates, lower rates of absenteeism, decreased recruitment costs and greater return on investment.

And of course, older workers are a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience.

Last year, a Deloitte Access Economics Report prepared for the Human Rights Commission found that through increased mature-age participation in the workforce, Australia is on track to add 2.7 per cent, or $55 billion, to our economy by 2025 [1].

But if we keep our focus on maximising mature-age participation, the benefits will be much greater. A further 5 per cent increase in the mature-age participation rate would grow our economy by an additional 2.4 per cent, or almost $48 billion by 2025.

Firstly, because it is the right thing to do; but secondly, because it will benefit us all, the Government has established a range of programs to help individuals and businesses boost mature-age participation, called Experience+.

Many employers would like to embrace this cohort—but may not know how.

That’s why, in April last year, we announced $55 million over four years to help mature-age job seekers find work and to help address negative attitudes and recruitment practices toward mature-age people.

As part of this, I recently launched the new $1000 Experience+ Jobs Bonus for employers who take on a job seeker over 50.

We know that sometimes, money does the talking, and this announcement is a big part of our push to change attitudes and encourage employers to experience first-hand, the benefits of employing a mature-age worker.

Any business can apply, no matter how big or small, and our Corporate Champions receive priority access to the new Jobs Bonus.

We’re also extending the Experience+ Career Advice service to make sure mature-age people can access free, professional career advice, have resumes and selection criteria reviewed, and receive interview coaching.

Employers can also apply for grants of up to $4400 to assist with the costs of formally recognising the skills of their mature-age workers or to provide gap training to make sure that people who have experience can also benefit from the latest training and an up-to-date qualification.

And later this year, we will launch a new mature-age participation and training program. Among other things, it will facilitate IT training and paid work trials.

And I am also very pleased that we have chosen partners to deliver the expansion of our current Corporate Champions pilot program to establish a flagship $15 million partnership with more than 250 employers—and this is the purpose of our meeting here today.

This is a great time to sign up to become a Corporate Champion—and there are exciting opportunities for businesses that get on board.

In fact, many of Australia’s biggest names already have—from Bunnings, to Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank, as well as Pitt & Sherry—who are here today to talk about the benefits of being in the program.

Our additional investment in Corporate Champions will expand the program, with specialised streams for small-to-medium businesses, and for large businesses.

There are many benefits for employers that join the Corporate Champions program.

Corporate Champions are eligible to receive a program of tailored assistance from an industry expert, valued up to $10,000.

This includes up to 10 days of face-to-face consulting services to assess your organisation.

You get a professional assessment of your organisation’s workforce demographics and recruitment and retention practices and help to develop an action plan to improve in any areas you identify as a priority.

This is where the one-on-one advice and support comes in, so you can achieve the goals in your action plan. This could include updating recruitment processes, rolling out new flexible working arrangements and implementing retention and mentoring programs.

We will share best practice examples with employers around Australia. And we already have plenty of good examples.

Employers are seeing the benefits of recruiting older workers whose skills, experience and diversity enhance workplaces and build productivity.

Many of you already employ mature-age workers and know their worth.

Corporate Champions can help you move towards best practice and get the best results for your business and for employees.

But don’t just take my word for it.

One of our existing corporate champions—Pitt & Sherry, an engineering, science and environmental consultant—is here today. And Lynda Peters, Organisational Development and Effectiveness Coordinator will give you a first-hand insight into the advantages of becoming a Corporate Champion, and the benefits of maximising mature-age worker participation.

Government is committed to a strong economy, and to jobs.

We believe that every Australian should be able to benefit from the dignity and challenges of work.

We are absolutely committed to ensuring that age is no longer an arbitrary barrier to getting a job.

Older worker discrimination needs to end—it’s immature!