Inbox: The curse of the baby boomers

The troublesome issue of our aging population and its impact on the labour market got sound airing at National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis (NIDEA) workshop in Hamilton recently.
Presenters suggested there is no silver bullet and that answers must lie in policy intervention across range of contributing areas. They also concluded that timing is key. Like many other OECD countries facing their own similar issues, New Zealand cannot afford to spend 10 to 15 years debating the implications of having an aging workforce. Decisions must be made and actions taken sooner rather than later.
Papers presented at the workshop suggest the baby boomer effect will see an inevitable and marked impact on the New Zealand and Australian workforce, and that differences are not merely related to age but also span personal characteristics, values and ethnicities.
Here in New Zealand, we are also seeing changes in the spatial distribution of the workforce as people leave rural areas, the young move to urban environs and older people continue to exit the workforce.
NIDEA, which is part of the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, provides research, advisory and consultancy services and demographic training to range of end-users, including government, the non-government sector and industry.
The New Zealand Department of Labour’s David Paterson and Simon Brown warned that recent growth in labour force participation is likely to come to an end as New Zealand’s population continues to age, putting pressure on economic growth.
Participation has risen significantly over the past 20 years, they said, despite an increase in the average age of the working-age population. By contrast, average hours worked has declined over the past 20 years.
Professor Graeme Hugo from the University of Adelaide, told delegates at the NIDEA workshop that Australia has more marked “post war baby boom” effect than most OECD countries with baby boomers making up 42 percent of the current workforce.
Hugo is professor of geography and director of the university’s Australian Population and Migration Research Centre.
He suggested that, too often, workforce interventions are seen only from narrow numbers perspective when issues such as health, training, retraining and workplace organisation need also to be carefully considered.
He also argued that government policy initiatives are only part of what is needed and that substantial cultural change on the part of employers and other key stakeholders is also required.
The baby boomer effect is exacerbated in particular sectors of the labour market and in particular regions and cities. The Australian government’s strategy for coping with the impacts of aging includes three “Ps” initiatives focusing on population, participation and productivity – all of which relate to policies and programmes involving the workforce.

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