Working To 70 – Cultural Fit Should Be The Key

With the 2014/5 federal budget moving the retirement age to 70 by 2035 this raises the question as to whether there will be sufficient opportunities for more mature people to find work in the coming decades, especially if the labour market remains tight.  Furthermore, will the apparent reticence of employers to employ ‘older workers’ change and, if so, what will be the catalyst for change? 

Gerard Mansour, Victoria’s first ever Commissioner for Senior Victorians, is tasked with providing independent advice to the Minister for the Ageing on the impact of policies and programs in relation to their participation in the workforce.  His panel hearings suggest that there is a long way to go and despite the best laid plans of Government policy makers, the reality is that older candidates face significant and often covert hurdles just to get to an interview stage. 

There is a perception that older employees are slow to learn new skills and lack energy compared with those a decade or two younger.  In a recent article in the Financial Review (‘My future as a middle aged trainee’), Lucy Kellaway however muses that without the responsibilities of raising a young family and the mortgage often paid off, professional people in their 50s could afford to start at the bottom and, with a finite amount of time left to learn new skills, be ‘…as keen as mustard…’! In addition organisations often consider that an older candidate does not have the potential for lengthy tenure compared with younger candidates.  But in reality how long do Gen Y employees stay with the one organisation these days in careers that will see multiple changes?

 Thus while older candidates may possess the skills, capacity to learn new ones, the maturity to understand the context of an organisation, life experience and indeed greater time and energy to focus on a career than younger employees, there is still a long way to go to change the perceptions of employers and perhaps the community at large. 

Where does this change start – is it with organisations, policy makers or recruiters?  What role do firms like ours play in this process?  In our experience the most important factor contributing to success at executive level is cultural fit, and that is not something that is age dependent. 

Peter Payne
May 2014

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