'Grey Ceiling' on 7:30
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Broadcast: 23/04/2015
Reporter: Hayden Cooper
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Australians of the future will live longer and be expected to work harder, until the age of 70 and beyond.
But what if they can't get jobs?
Age discrimination's always been a problem in the workforce, but now for the first time the trend's been mapped and more than a quarter of over-50s feel they've been discriminated against because of their age.
The challenge is to convince employers to choose experience over youth.
Hayden Cooper reports.
HAYDEN COOPER, REPORTER: At 68, Andrew Shilton is going strong. Still in the workforce, he's forging a second career as a Melbourne handyman, driven, like most, by necessity.
ANDREW SHILTON, GREY ARMY: I've got a mortgage and my mortgage probably won't expire for another 15 years, so that'll put me into my early 80s, so I have to keep working. It's as simple as that.
HAYDEN COOPER: He is one of the lucky few at his age to find a job that works for him and keep it.
ANDREW SHILTON: I knock on the door, ring the bell, I'm always bright and breezy, I'm on time and I want that work. So, they have to like me. I've had nobody turn me away, so I'm doing it right, I hope.
HAYDEN COOPER: Increasingly, many others are not so fortunate. As old age approaches, holding a job becomes harder. When discrimination is added to the mix, it's impossible, as more experienced workers are passed over for promotion, laid off or struggle to find a job at all.
SUSAN RYAN, AGE DISCRIMINATION COMMISSIONER: The report we've just launched shows that it's very serious, that over a quarter of people over 50 experience age discrimination in very damaging ways.
HAYDEN COOPER: The Human Rights Commission report provides a compelling picture of this growing problem. It found that a third of those who'd experienced discrimination gave up on the job hunt. Almost half thought about retirement or using superannuation. And often discrimination strikes those who are most vulnerable.
SUSAN RYAN: The people most likely to experience age discrimination in the workforce are low income people and single parents and they're the people who can least afford to lose a job.
HAYDEN COOPER: Susan Ryan is the nation's Age Discrimination Commissioner. A former Education minister in the Hawke Government, she's now on a mission to convince Australian companies to change their attitudes to older workers.
SUSAN RYAN: Well, companies, like all of us, appreciate the fact that young people just recently finished their university training, whatever it is, have the latest ideas, they're terrifically energetic because they want to get their careers moving in the right direction, and they're good things. But at the same time, those things don't replace experience, knowledge of the company and of course older employees are very enthusiastic too.
BRUCE WILLIAMSON, JOB SEEKER: Consistent work: extremely difficult. In the last probably two years I would've put out easy 200, 300 resumes every year.
HAYDEN COOPER: Bruce Williamson is a highly skilled business consultant in Brisbane, but at the moment he's in a hard place.
BRUCE WILLIAMSON: I'm on the dole.
HAYDEN COOPER: And how difficult is that?
BRUCE WILLIAMSON: Extremely difficult, extremely difficult. Yep. Unemployment benefits.
HAYDEN COOPER: He suspects that his age is the reason that so many companies are knocking back his applications.
BRUCE WILLIAMSON: You're either overskilled, overqualified, which you can either put down to being age, but when you're after a C-level position, how can you be overqualified?
HAYDEN COOPER: He's now sought the help of a recruitment company that specialises in older workers. Here, age discrimination is on frequent display from employers, who themselves are often young.
MALCOLM WALKER, GREYHAIR ALCHEMY: They see this grey-haired person sitting in front of them and they think, "I can't relate to this person. Why is he looking for a job? Why is she looking for a job? And I'm going to promote into that role somebody that I can relate to."
HAYDEN COOPER: And then there are the job seekers who never even reach the interview stage.
BRUCE WILLIAMSON: A few years ago I was actually told by an admin' assistant inside one of the organisations, her instruction was to throw or disregard any application that was over 35 years old.
SUSAN RYAN: The recruiters make their money by successfully placing people. Now if the recruiter thinks that an employer doesn't want anyone over 50, they will not put forward the CV's of anyone over 50, no matter how perfect that person would be for the job. You raise this with the recruiters and they say, "Well we have to have a business. It's the employer's fault." You raise it with the employers and they say, "We've never given these instructions." But somewhere between the two, older, experienced, valuable workers are being squeezed out.
HAYDEN COOPER: Susan Ryan is urging the Government to give this issue much more attention and more funding to retrain employees, especially if it wants Australians to contribute for longer.
BRUCE WILLIAMSON: We're not even getting work at 55, forget about going up to 70 and I'm fit and able to do anything.
HAYDEN COOPER: It's an age-old dilemma: the wisdom of experience versus the enthusiasm of youth.
ANDREW SHILTON: Some of the kids do have the latest techniques, they can do things a lot quicker, 'cause the old aches and pains do creep in, getting on and off the steps, etc. Memory goes. You lose your bloody tape measure wherever you go. But that's about it. Hare and the tortoise. Young guys get in there, they can probably do their work in the morning. It takes me all day to do mine. But they charge an awful lot to do a morning's work; I charge the same amount for all day. But I get it done.
LEIGH SALES: Hayden Cooper reporting.