With a strong and genuine interest in societal issues affecting older Australians, Dr Patterson started her role as Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner in 2016, after a long and notable public service career. Over the years, she led and championed significant work addressing age discrimination in the workplace, elder abuse in the community and older women’s risk of homelessness. She has become a prominent figure, using her platform and role to raise awareness and understanding of issues affecting older Australians.
Read on for part two of this two-part series, where Dr Patterson offers advice for older workers and her thoughts on the future of age inclusivity in the Australian workforce.
To read part one of the series, visit Age diversity is good for business – with the Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO.
There are many older Australians who may feel nervous or scared about changing careers, and are unsure what support and resources are available to help them. For example, older Australians could access many government supports such as the Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers program or visiting the Mature Age Hub online. What would your advice be to these individuals?
"Workplace ageist attitudes are changing and the more that older people participate in the workforce the more lingering ageism will be challenged.
My advice to a mature worker who is having doubts or feeling nervous about changing careers is – apply for that job! As a mature age worker, you bring a lifetime of experience, skills and knowledge to the workforce. You should know that there are a range of resources and programs available to assist older people to understand how their skills are transferable, to upskill their digital knowledge, and to identify the jobs and skills in demand.
You’ve mentioned some of the Australian Government’s Department of Employment and Workplace Relation’s supports. This is a key place to start for information, incentives and the career transition program.
There are also outstanding support programs that mentor older people seeking to re-enter the workforce to gain skills or go for jobs, such as Women Working Together and the Good Things Foundation, both in Victoria.
Currently the Work Bonus increases the amount an eligible pensioner can earn from work before it affects their pension rate. This is being particularly promoted in industries that have labour shortages, such as tourism, and may be ideal for older people seeking a boost to their income. There are also incentives available to encourage businesses to hire and train mature age employees.
I would hope that one immediate goal would be to have an Australian-based website, which brings together information on all such initiatives and their evaluations, as well as all the available resources for setting up training, re-training, and up-skilling programs."
What do you hope to see in the future for the Australian workforce in terms of age inclusivity?
"Flexibility is becoming increasingly important for workers of all ages, including older workers. Having access to workplaces that are flexible and responsive to their needs can significantly prolong the working lives of older people.
Flexible work practices need to be age agnostic to meet the needs of employees across age groups. Promoting flexible work as ‘business as usual’ for employees of all ages can also help avoid stigma connected to ageing.
I am a big supporter of innovative strategies to build and support an age-diverse workforce. For example, Women CAN Australia is an organisation that supports older and disadvantaged women into sustainable employment through free TAFE courses in aged and disability care using a peer supported model with other wraparound assistance. They also run a facility maintenance program, where tradeswomen, cleaners and gardeners deliver services by women for women. Women CAN Australia is but one of many organisations out there, that are making valuable contributions to supporting the workforce participation of older people.
Additionally, sometimes it is how age is absent from discussions that suggests devaluation of older workers. A global survey of 6,000 employers from 36 countries found that more than 1 in 2 businesses did not include age in their diversity and inclusion policies.
I encourage all employers to include age in their diversity discussions and policies. Creating and maintaining an age-diverse workforce should be a priority for every employer."
The department would like to thank Dr Patterson for her time and insights. If you would like more information on securing work as a mature age worker or would like to attract mature age workers to your business, visit the Mature Age Hub.