Ageist attitudes ignoring a $2bn opportunity

A specialist recruiter for people over 45 years old is calling for urgent action from all private and public organisations to ditch ageist attitudes and benefit from experience and knowledge.

The call comes at the same time TVNZ’s What Next? series explores whether advances in medicine could make living to one hundred and thirty years a reality, meaning the need to work a lot longer.

It also follows the latest Diversity Works survey showing a worrying indication that ageing is becoming less of a concern to organisations.

Founder of Wise Ones, Kate Ross, says in a media release that her organisation comes across hundreds of people who have been at the wrong end of ageism, can’t find work and save properly to support their retirement.

“This is a scourge on New Zealand as people become victims to a whole host of excuses by employers who are just wriggling out of employing anyone who is in their final 20 years of work.

“This is blatant discrimination against a growing section of our population who are the most experienced we have, at a time when we are facing a skills shortage.

“Ageism is an economic and social issue affecting all of New Zealand and needs to rise up the business agenda.”

Statistics point to this being an economic opportunity lost, based on StatsNZ figures showing around 140,000 people over the age of 45 being 25 percent underutilised, equivalent to 10 hours a week, at an average pay of $32 an hour. Using this section of the population fully would unleash around $2.3bn to the spending economy, $760m in tax revenue and help thousands live a better life.

Kate Ross, went on to say NZ should disrupt the status quo by being age proud and openly age inclusive.

“By not talking about age we are shooting ourselves in the foot – age is the growing elephant in the room no-one is discussing.

“Employers need to be more vocal about people over the age of 45 and employees need to feel comfortable talking about their age. Our population is ageing – there’s no getting over this. So if we

don’t change our attitude to being older and working, we are just missing out. We could lead the world in changing this attitude.”

There are organisations who are very open to employing older people and there is industry discussion following the “Act Now, Age Later” report from the EMA and Commission for Financial Capability, but more action is needed.

The report talks about a perfect storm combining an “ageing population, a low birth rate, a labour shortage, a skills deficit and the changing nature of work” meaning the need “to tackle this issue now.”

Having a comfortable retirement will cost a couple just over $1,000 a week when super covers $600 of this and life expectancy has increased to 86 for men and 89 for women. Retirement is a growing bill for which people need to save and prepare, and they need to work for longer to do this.

“I know of some recruiters who won’t look at candidates if there’s a whiff of them being over 50, which is just nuts. Why would anyone disregard all this expertise?” Ross says.

The 2019 series of What Next? follows the previous series two years ago that asked Kiwis what they wanted New Zealand to be like in 20 years’ time regarding technology, the economy, the environment and the way we live. This year’s four-part documentary looks at these ideas in action, and meets Kiwis with radical ideas showing the path to future-proof New Zealand. Kate Ross was interviewed for the What Next? episode airing on June 11.

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