5 industries where older workers are unretiring and thriving

Retiring at 60 and taking home a gold watch home to put on your slippers and play lawn bowls is slowly fading away. Instead, more of us want to combine work, passion and play to remain active and keep contributing to society (and our super!). Yes, ageism is always at play in Australia's workforce, but Carolyn Tate explores the Australian industries where older workers are in demand.

By Carolyn Tate

5 industries where older workers are thriving

It doesn’t seem that long ago that when we hit the magic 60 mark, retirement was the expected result. We’d be given a gold watch, if we were lucky, and be sent on our way to see out our ‘golden years’ gardening and meeting our friends down at the RSL or bowlo.

These days, we’ve seen a significant shift – not only has pension age lifted to 67, but our society is starting to realise that, actually, its more experienced members still have a lot to offer in the workforce.

Globally, it’s expected that around 150 million jobs will shift to workers over the age of 55 in the next decade, but Australia still has a way to go in supporting that move. One 2020 survey found that only 4% of companies have a program in place that integrates older workers into their talent system.

The good news is that some industries and companies are recognising what older workers have to offer, and are embracing their strengths. Even the way we define “older worker” has evolved, with the Australian HR Institute and Australian Human Rights Commission finding many organisations in 2023 defined “older” employees as 61-65 years of age, compared with 50-55 years of age in 2021.

The Australian Government is also trying to support older people to keep working (yep, the government bean counters want to reduce the reliance on the age pension, but there is resounding evidence that working longer also equates to living longer).

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So let's take a look at 5 of Australia's best industries for older workers:

1.    Retail

While some retailers may turn their nose up at what older workers have to offer, there are a few large corporations that more than make up for it. Wesfarmers is one, which includes Bunnings, Kmart and Target. Bunnings managing director John Gillam has spoken publicly of his praise for older workers. He told The Weekend Australian that Bunnings has hired around 2000 team members over the age of 55 in the past 5 years, saying, “We find they have patience and a depth of knowledge, and they love teaching the younger workers. The older workers generally command more respect.”

Australia Post is another significant hirer of older Australians, with nearly 60% of their workforce aged 45 or over. “We are proud of our workforce and the fact we have people of all ages working alongside each other,” a spokesperson told SEEK. “Australia Post’s equal employment opportunity process ensures age is not a factor in making hiring decisions.”

2.    Health care

With a larger burden placed on Australia’s healthcare and aged care sectors, thanks to our ageing population, it makes sense that this would also present opportunities for older workers. With a growing need for experienced health and caring professionals, Australia has seen a noticeable shift towards embracing mature workers who bring their knowledge and skills to the table. Around 634,000 people employed in healthcare and caring professions are over 50, which is around 14% of the total talent pool.

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3.    Education and training

The capacity to mentor and educate others is a distinct advantage that older workers can bring to education and training. Around 440,000 people aged over 50 are working in education and training in Australia, which is almost 10% of the workforce.

Older teachers and educators are known to have more experience, more patience, a larger pool of knowledge to draw from, and to possess the ability to think critically in a way their less experienced colleagues have not yet attained.

Many Australian education departments are actively encouraging more teachers to move or train to work in their public education system.

4.    Agriculture

With a dip in backpackers and migrants available to work on the land since the Covid pandemic, older workers have been stepping in to help bridge the labour gap.And now that they’ve seen what more mature helpers can do, many producers are now actively seeking older workers to continue their farm work. 

As we approach the summer harvest season, the demand for labour in grain and horticulture alone is estimated to reach 40,000 workers across the country. Australia's over-50s demographic represents a dedicated and hardworking workforce, perfectly suited to meet this demand.

5.    Manufacturing

Older workers are highly regarded in the manufacturing world for their professionalism, which is especially important in this safety-conscious industry.

Manufacturing companies recognise the unique strengths that mature workers bring to the table, including a strong work ethic, attention to detail, and years of experience that can be invaluable in maintaining quality and safety standards.

Within the manufacturing sector, 398,500 people aged 45 and over are actively employed, which is almost 9% percent of the workforce. These workers contribute to various aspects of manufacturing, including assembly, quality control, machine operation, and management, where their skills and dedication play a vital role in ensuring the industry's continued success and adherence to rigorous standards. 

Looking at the opportunities in these industries, it seems is not age is not always a barrier (though of course, age discrimination is still a problem across many industries and workplaces). And Citro is looking forward to more industries following suit, to the benefit of both older workers and employers, with increased productivity across the board.





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