Mature workers in the labour market

Mature workers – those aged 55 and over – are expected to play an increasingly key role in the economy as the number of young people entering the workforce falls.

Mature workers play an increasingly important role in NZ workforce

An experienced mechanic mentoring a young worker

The number of young workers entering the labour market is falling

By international standards New Zealand’s mature employment rates are high, and only getting higher. Our population is ageing, and people are staying in the workforce for longer than they did in previous generations. 

This combination means that an increasingly large percentage of New Zealand’s labour market is over 55. According to Statistics New Zealand, 279,600 people over the age of 55 were employed in March 2003 – around 14.4% of the total number of people employed. By March 2013 this number had risen to 489,900, or 21.8%.

At the same time, the number of people approaching the “entry ages” for the labour market is declining quickly. Between 2013 and 2023, the number of New Zealanders aged between 15 and 19 is expected to shrink by around 28,000.

That means that mature workers are set to play an increasingly important role in the future of the New Zealand labour market. As New Zealand’s population ages and the number of young workers entering the labour market declines, mature workers are increasingly crucial to filling jobs in areas of skill shortage.

Mature workers can face barriers in gaining employment

Mature workers have a lot to offer an employer besides a wide range of workplace experience. A recent survey of over 500 employers cited reliability, professionalism and good listening skills as good qualities that mature workers are often associated with.

However older workers can also face a range of barriers to employment, especially when looking for work after losing a job or being made redundant. These include: 

  • A perceived lack of transferable skills. Mature workers may have accumulated knowledge over the course of their careers that may seem specific to one particular occupation or industry, or that may not easily translate easily to another field.
  • Inability or unwillingness to compromise on salaries. Because of their skills and experience, older works are often used to earning above average wages. Mature workers who find themselves out of work are more likely to remain unemployed, rather than accepting jobs that offer lower pay.
  • Hours. Many mature workers also want to work part-time hours, which can limit the opportunities available to them.
  • Age-based discrimination. While it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age when it comes to employing staff, it’s likely that this does happen, even if it’s not acknowledged. There are a variety of factors as to why this occurs, but in the end it can mean that mature workers have a hard time finding employment.

As a mature worker, how can you make the most of the opportunities available to you?

Develop a marketable identity

While mature workers may have some skills that are specific to one job, they’re also likely to have lots of skills and attributes that are valuable in a variety of other workplaces. 

A key step when looking for work is to create a marketable identity – a personal brand that makes you stand out from the crowd, which you can use to sell yourself to potential employers.

Your marketable identity is about the total package that you have to offer. This includes things like your skills, knowledge and positive attitude. For mature workers it could also include things like you willingness to share your expertise, or to mentor younger workers in an organisation.

Take some time to figure out and evaluate what your marketable identity might look like, and think about how it could apply to areas of work that you’re interested in. You might also consider how you could promote your employability in a CV or job interview. 

Be flexible and realistic

A mature engineer talking with a young colleague

Mature workers who can be flexible and open to negotiation may have a better chance of finding work

In a recent survey of over 500 employers, the biggest mistakes that mature workers made in an interview situation were listed as: 

  • having high salary or compensation demands
  • being unrealistic about their own abilities or experience
  • being inflexible in working style or working schedules. 

If you can, it pays to be flexible about the type of work you’re willing to do, the hours you’re willing to work, and the salary or remuneration that you’re willing to accept.  If you’re open to negotiation on these points you’re much more likely to be able to make the most of the opportunities available.

Make the most of your networks

At times the labour market can be as much about “who you know” as “what you know”. This can be especially true for mature workers, whose years in the labour market often result in a wide network of work contacts.

When you’re looking for work it pays to talk to everyone you know, including family, friends, and previous employers and colleagues. Think of these people as your network of job hunters – between them they will have access to a far wider range of people and potential job leads than you could possibly access yourself.

Consider training or retraining

Education as a way of updating employment skills is a lifelong process. However research suggests that older people who find themselves out of work tend to prefer the idea of immediate employment over retraining, even if that employment will result in lower pay than they may be used to. 

Whether or not to retrain is a personal choice – it can be expensive and time-consuming. However if you do retrain it can improve your job prospects by signalling to employers that you’re motivated and that your skills are up to date. Retraining in an area of skill shortage can also significantly improve your job opportunities. 

As an employer, how can you attract and retain mature workers?

In a labour market where skills shortages are prevalent, the increasing pool of mature workers is too important to be ignored by employers.  As our population ages, employers may need to consider employing mature workers for a wider range of jobs that are usually associated with younger workers.

Employers who wish to make the most of employing mature workers may need to establish more age-friendly employment policies. These could include: 

  • offering more training and re-skilling opportunities for older workers
  • offering more part-time hours, or the possibility of job-sharing between employees
  • matching roles and tasks to the skills and experience that mature workers offer
  • revising workplace practices and policies around retirement, so that workers and their managers can freely discuss the possibilities around transitioning to retirement
  • educating hiring managers about the realities of population ageing, and the effects this will have on the labour market
  • using age-friendly language in job advertisements. 

Sources

  • Bednarz, A, ‘Hiring preferences favour mature workers over Millennials: study’, Computerworld, 10th October 2012, (www.computerworld.co.nz)
  • Cochrane, B, Jackson, N and McMillan, R, ‘Worforce participation of older workers as an element of New Zealand’s retirement income framework: a review of existing knowledge and data’, The University of Waikato, March 2013 (www.waikato.ac.nz)
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, ‘Understanding the Job Mobility and Employability of Older Workers’, May 2009, (www.mbie.govt.nz)
  • Sneyd, R, ‘An opportunity not to be missed: older workers’, HRM Online, 19 November 2012, (www.hrmonline.co.nz).

Updated 29 Mar 2017