Age discrimination is Australia’s biggest barrier to opportunity: Report

LinkedIn says ageism is Australia's biggest barrier to opportunity.

LinkedIn says ageism is Australia's biggest barrier to opportunity. Photo: TND

With older Australians still processing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s advice to learn new skills and delay retirement, a new report adds to the mounting evidence of an Australian ageism crisis.

Conducted by professional networking site, LinkedIn, the survey of 1025 Australians revealed just under one in two baby boomers (44 per cent) believe their age is the main reason for employers rejecting their job applications.

The troubling findings add to several recent reports showing employers characterised older workers as slow and incapable of adapting to new technologies.

Indeed APAC economist Callam Pickering said such stigmatisation spelled bad news for the entire workforce.

“Putting a monetary value on it is difficult … but speaking more broadly, research consistently shows that there’s huge value in employing people from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences,” Mr Pickering told The New Daily.

“We know that diverse teams tend to be better at problem-solving and they tend to be more profitable as well.”

Discriminating against certain groups of workers is therefore bad for business, Mr Pickering said.

But this hasn’t stopped Australian employers from rejecting workers on the basis of age.

Top barriers to ‘opportunity’

  • Age (25 per cent)
  • Financial status (24 per cent)
  • Difficult jobs market (21 per cent).

Australia’s Human Rights Commission found in a 2015 survey that 27 per cent of older Australians had faced workplace discrimination – often during the hiring process.

A third of that group consequently went into early retirement.

The commission said firms routinely looked past merit and assumed older Australians were less tech-savvy and would struggle to fit in with their corporate culture.

“I’ve never felt my age until I had to look for work,” one older Australian told the commission.

“I often get feedback after interviews that I am ‘too experienced’, which is surely code for ageism,” remarked another.

Mr Pickering said strong growth in tech-heavy service jobs, relative to traditional sectors such as manufacturing, might be exacerbating the issue.

“Another important factor is simply that they might be less willing to invest in an older worker because they assume that that worker is going to retire sooner rather than later,” Mr Pickering said.

“And so if they have a choice between a 30-year-old employee that might stick around for 15 or 20 years, versus a 55-year old that might hang around for five years, they might prefer that younger worker.”

Mr Pickering said the logic underpinning this argument was “problematic” as it could be used to justify hiring men over women, on the basis that women could take time off to have children.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg caused a stir in November when he said older Australians should learn new skills.

LinkedIn’s survey comes just months after Mr Frydenberg offended large swathes of older Australians by saying they must learn new skills and delay retirement as Australia’s ageing population was putting pressure on the budget.

Independent economist Dr Jim Stanford, who heads the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, told The New Daily at the time that Mr Frydenberg’s comments missed the point as the economy already suffered from a shortage of jobs.

Although the unemployment rate sits at just 5.1 per cent, a further 8.3 per cent are working fewer hours than they would like to be.

“The problem we have is a shortage of jobs, not a shortage of people to do the jobs,” Dr Stanford said.

Instead of telling older workers that they should stay in the labour market and work until they’re 70, we should be encouraging them to retire by giving them secure and decent pensions.

“And when they do that, they’ll be helping to make room for young people who have got skills and energy but can’t find work.”

More needs to be done

Robert Tickner, co-chair of advocacy campaign EveryAge Counts, said Mr Frydenberg’s comments had been somewhat misinterpreted.

But he told The New Daily working into later life should ultimately be a matter of choice.

Some workers would prefer to retire early, he said, while others would prefer to accrue more superannuation or keep themselves actively engaged with their communities.

Age discrimination takes away this choice.

Which is why Mr Tickner said there was a need for more awareness campaigns to tackle age discrimination – something suggested by the Human Rights Commission in its 2016 report.

(Among other things, the commission also recommended a Minister of Longevity be appointed to address discrimination and help older Australians continue working.)

“We want our political leaders to be sending the right messages. But we also need to get our employers to hear the message: That you wouldn’t discriminate on the basis of race, so you shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of age,” Mr Tickner said.

“It’s bad economics. It’s bad risk management. And it’s illegal.”

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