Lyn McDonald was always attracted to the funeral industry. But it wasn’t until she was 62 that she finally got her dream job – memorials manager for a big lawn cemetery and crematoria. Two years into the job of selling burial plots and memorial sites, she says, “I absolutely love it. I wish I’d done it 20 years ago.”
Lyn has a varied working history as a sales representative for the cosmetics company, Estee Lauder, and owner of a gift shop that went bust. Then she managed a small magazine that was inserted into a country newspaper. But how did she beat the age discrimination, rejection and heartbreak that face so many mature-age jobseekers? “I think my employer was impressed that at the time I applied I was president of the Dubbo Rotary Club,” Lyn says half-jokingly. “I had good connections, and a lot of them were potential customers of the memorial park.”
A good deal of nonsense, it seems to me, is written about “encore careers”. This is the term used to describe new career paths taken by older people in the second half or last third of their life. An encore career can open after someone is retrenched; or after they’ve left a secure job to find more meaningful work. It happened to Lyn. It’s happened to a good friend of mine who left a job in the tourist industry in her late 50s and moved into events management and PR. It’s easier to achieve if you go where the demand is – aged care and provision of personal services to the elderly, for example. And then there are the late-life entrepreneurs – now dubbed seniorpreneurs – who risk their retrenchment pay-out on a start-up business that miraculously succeeds.
Encore careers ought to be the norm, not the newsworthy exception. If we’re expected to work till we’re 70, it should be the accepted thing that people can change careers, snare new jobs, and start new businesses in their 50s and 60s. But really, given employer attitudes, it’s hard; in the current economic climate with 6.4 per cent unemployment, very hard. And state and federal governments aren’t doing enough to help older people find encore careers.
For a start, state and federal governments don’t advertise public service jobs in forums that specialise in mature-age jobseekers. Some employment specialists have created online job boards where employers who are happy to hire older people advertise jobs. Age-friendly employers who use these job boards include companies such as Woolworths, Bunnings, Pacific Lighting, Kingsford Timber Mitre 10, and Dial-an-Angel.
But federal and state governments are glaringly absent from these sites. They refuse to identify themselves as an age-friendly employer. Judy Higgins is general manager of Older Workers.com.au It started five years ago, and is a good source of jobs for older workers. Judy said to me: “What is the government doing about employing older people? They preach and carry on….they have corporate champion programs and employer subsidies to hire older workers. But they don’t target older workers themselves.”
Recently the Federal government announced a $10,000 bonus, paid over two years, to employers who hire jobseekers aged 50 and over who are unemployed for more than six months.
But approaches to the Rudd and Gillard governments, to the Abbott government, and to the Queensland, NSW and Victorian governments to advertise public service vacancies on the mature-age jobseeker sites have come to nothing. “’It’s all too hard,’ we’re told,” Judy says. “Governments say they have merit selection. When we make a presentation to government, the HR managers are in their 20s and 30s….”
It’s the same story at Adage. This is another specialist jobs site that brings age-friendly employers and mature-age jobseekers together. Heidi Holmes, the director, told me, “Governments are out there encouraging small business and corporations to employ mature-age workers but I’m not aware of government departments pro-actively doing that themselves. They’re not putting their money where their mouth is.”
It’s ridiculous for governments to boycott these job sites for mature-age jobseekers. Many older jobseekers have given up on the usual job ad forums like Seek.com because of bitter experience. They want to know in advance an employer is genuinely age-friendly. Government advertising on the specialist sites would not undermine principles of non-discrimination in hiring. It wouldn’t preclude governments from advertising the jobs elsewhere; and it wouldn’t mean a mature-age applicant would be selected.
I wanted to write a positive story about people who’d found encore careers. I could have told you about Suzie Graham who at 65 is following her dream. She’s a widow with a mortgage to pay off. But after a career in marketing and fund-raising for big organisations, she’s thrown it in to co-found a business called One Million Acts of Innovation. It’s a new digital platform to promote a culture of innovation. In the meantime, she’s reliant on some private clients but is full of confidence about the new venture. “What took me so long?” Suzie says. “I love being with people who are excited about what they’re doing.”
These encore careerists in their 60s are pioneers. It’s still unusual to get a job in later life, take up a new career, or start a business. The encore career must become the norm. And really, it’s time governments did more than jawbone and bribe business. When it comes to targeting and hiring mature-age jobseekers, governments need to lead by example.
What’s your experience in starting over? Any thoughts on the government’s role? Please Comment
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