Golden Oldies add value to workforce

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Age Concern's Adrienne von Tunzelmann says there is still much to be done to encourage older workers to stay on.
Age Concern's Adrienne von Tunzelmann says there is still much to be done to encourage older workers to stay on.

New Zealand is one of the best-performing OECD countries in harnessing the economic power of workers aged 55 and above, according to PwC's latest Golden Age Index report.

And that trend is reflected in Bay of Plenty employment patterns, says Anne Pankhurst, who chairs the Population Ageing Technical Advisory Group, which advises Smart Growth and the BOP District Health Board.

"I think our success relates to employers recognising the skills they have in older workers," she said.

"It also reflects the fact that the younger generation are often quite transitory, whereas the older ones are more settled and often very skilled. The trick now is to ensure that we are transferring those skills back to younger workers. So while we are very good at employing older workers, we have to be clear about the importance of transferring skills."

The PwC Index is a weighted average of indicators - including employment, earnings and training - that reflect the labour market impact of workers aged over 55 in 34 OECD countries.

New Zealand has ranked second in the two most recent surveys, while also ranking as one of the most improved countries since the index started in 2003.

One of the big increases New Zealand has seen in recent years is the growing employment rate for those in the 65-69 age bracket, with this percentage nearly doubling compared with 2003.

"The latest index findings clearly show that New Zealand is consistently well ahead of the pack when it comes to supporting older workers," said PwC consulting partner Scott Mitchell.

"However, there is still more for businesses to do to support mature workers. Flexible working arrangements are a start, but we really need to see a cultural change as the number of older workers in New Zealand is projected to grow."

Only Iceland ranks above New Zealand in the index. Rounding out the top five are Sweden, Israel and Estonia.

Adrienne von Tunzelmann, a Tauranga-based national board member of Age Concern, said the report highlighted the fact that the subject was very relevant across New Zealand and internationally.

"We can expect to see more commentary and new ways of thinking about where workforce skills are going to come from within an ageing population.

"We need to encourage current workers to stay on past retirement by restructuring jobs. The report highlights the need for more flexible arrangements that are attractive to older people. New Zealand is doing relatively well on international comparisons.

"But in the local environment, older people would still say it isn't easy for them to remain in the workforce or change career paths once they get into the over-60 age group. That would suggest there is still work to be done in the way employers plan for and manage their older workers."

PwC's Mr Mitchell said New Zealand did not have a fixed retirement age.

"So older workers can retire when they want to and on average, those that do 'retire' continue to work shorter hours per week. There is no age limit to access student loans in New Zealand, which makes retraining a viable option for older workers who wish to pursue work in other fields."

Key policies needed:

The report included a number of key policies that companies and policymakers can pursue to improve on these rankings. While New Zealand has made progress with some of these recommendations, they need to remain high on the agenda, says PwC.

• Encouraging later retirement. This could be achieved through pension reform or by creating other financial incentives that encourage workers to continue working past the official retirement age.
• Improving employability. Policymakers could focus on promoting lifelong education and training, which could upskill older workers and thus potentially reduce unemployment of older workers.
• Reducing employment barriers for older workers. Public policy could place an emphasis on tightening regulation around labour market discrimination against older workers.

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