Over a third of Australia’s workforce is made up of baby boomers, with the majority preparing to retire between 2015 and 2020 resulting in a huge loss of skills, knowledge and experience.
However, while attitudes towards older workers are changing and they are increasingly being identified as a critical source of labour supply by Australian employers, there’s still reluctance to invest in older workers’ human capital, according to a 2010 survey by Monash University of over 2,000 Queensland companies.
“Mentoring and knowledge transfer is popular with organisations– get what they can before older workers leave – but there’s this attitude there’s little point in training older human capital because it will be gone soon”, Director of Research and Graduate Studies, Professor Philip Taylor from Monash University explains.
“This is not just an issue for individual workplaces but for the nation.
“We need to view older workers as a long-term investment. Employers need to hang onto their older workers as long as possible rather than giving them the impression that they are no longer wanted and on the way out.”
However far-sighted sighted manufacturers like FMP Group (Australia) are investing in their older workers by incorporating an ageing workforce as part of the company’s strategic plans – with benefits for both employees and the business.
Investing in experience
It was in 2006 after a review of the company’s Workcover premium history that managers at the Victorian-based automotive component supplier realised they could lose over half their workforce of 280 employees due to retirement in the next 10 years.
“This generated much discussion around succession and workforce planning, injury and risk management, training, job design, new technology etc – all things we had considered in the past but never with explicit consideration for the large number of employees we had nearing retirement age,” explains Susan Honeyman, Human Resource Manager at FMP.
“With such a large portion of the workforce in the ‘aging’ category, we wanted to ensure training and up-skilling opportunities are offered to all workers to keep them interested and engaged, and to fulfil their need to continue to make a meaningful contribution to the business,” she told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
Manufacturing brake and friction materials under the Bendix brand, FMP has a very low natural attrition rate (<1%) and long serving workforce with employees averaging about 16 years of service.
Honeyman explains that a key part of managing an ageing workforce is to “maintain an open and honest dialogue with employees and to provide flexibility when deciding on work arrangements” which can be a concept “not always readily accepted by production managers in traditional manufacturing environments”.
“However employees have to feel safe to report physical and mental conditions and be given the opportunity to contribute to the solution to their issue,” she said.
“The entire workforce needs to be aware of the issues surrounding an aging population – to help them understand that today it is their work mate, neighbour or parent, but one day it will be them.”
When it comes to recruiting older workers, Honeyman advises manufacturers to look into initiatives such as the Federal Government’s experience + program which provides assistance and information to older workers and employers with (re)training, new opportunities and job retention.
“Also communicate clearly to recruitment providers that the business is prepared to look at older workers as traditionally recruitment agencies appear to be reluctant to put older candidates forward.”