PM wants help for older public servants to stay in the workforce

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday December 9, 2019

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Scott Morrison has told Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott the impending whole-of-APS workforce strategy should explore how the APS and its leaders can support older Australians who want to join or stay in the workforce.

In a letter addressed to Woolcott, Morrison argued the government and the APS should have the “tools and support systems in place” to reflect the Australian community:

“As Prime Minister and Minister for the Public Service, it is my expectation that first and foremost the APS’s approach to hiring staff is focused on finding the people with the best skills for the job. What is clear, however, is that while the APS has made strong progress in hiring people with those top skills that better reflects the diversity of Australia, we need to do more to support older Australians who want to join and stay in the public service.

“The age demographic of the APS has not changed significantly in recent years. We need to do better to offer the right training and flexibility for working Australians of all ages in the APS. We should do everything we can to support older Australians in the APS who want to keep working.

“As you know, older Australians offer deep experience and useful perspectives for the work government and the APS does. In the context of the workforce strategy the Australian Public Service Commission is developing, I ask that you examine what more can and should be done by the APS, departmental secretaries and agency leads to ensure we harness the skills and experience of older Australians who want to stay in the workforce.”

According to the latest State of the Service report, the workforce strategy will identify priority intervention areas in response to current and future workforce challenges, and will “inform future capability requirements and help prepare public sector employees for the future”, through workforce capability areas such as recruitment and retention, learning and development, and leadership.

The report also noted that the Australian Bureau of Statistics found the proportion of older people in Australia’s labour force has increased over the past 10 years. About 14% of people aged 65 years and over were part of the labour force in 2016, up from 9.4% in 2006. Meanwhile, the APS workforce has increased from a mean age of 41.6 years in 2010 to 43.6 years in 2019.

Department of Jobs and Small Business secretary Kerri Hartland — who was recently announced as one of the secretaries to lose their job as part of huge Machinery of Government changes — took to the IPAA ACT annual conference last year to highlight that older workers worldwide have been left behind due to outdated skill-sets and an unprepared workforce.

“People who failed to renew, refresh, and diversify their skills are at greater risk of being left behind, potentially competing for lower-skill jobs, and becoming redundant or sliding into an early retirement,” she said.

“Are we thinking enough about our workforce needs in the future in line with these trends I’ve outlined? Second, do we have enough flexibility and agility to adapt to changing demographics, and factoring life-long learning in the APS? Finally, are we looking enough in the mirror at the utilisation of programmes that we developed for the broader economy and applying it in our own departments?”

READ MORE: The challenge and opportunity of an ageing workforce

Last month, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg rehashed the argument for older Australians to stay in the workforce for longer, in order to help tackle the economic challenges which come with an ageing population. He noted that working Australians currently undertake 80% of their training before the age of 21.

“This will have to change if we want to continue to see more Australians stay engaged in work for longer,” he said.

“It is not about forcing people to stay in the workforce, but rather giving them the opportunity and the choice to pursue life-long learning and skills training if they so choose.”

Frydenberg has been criticised by some for potentially laying the blame of Australia’s economic issues on older Australians, and unintentionally engaging in ageism.

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