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Campaign for older workers? APS has doubled its veterans

The Australian public service has caught up to and surpassed some of its state counterparts in its percentage of older workers. It comes as a campaign to encourage employment of older workers was launched yesterday by Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan and Employment Minister Eric Abetz.

The Power of Oldness anti-discrimination video campaign was launched in Sydney yesterday. Ryan says community attitudes and employer practices are not keeping pace with the massive demographic change Australia is facing.

State and federal public services, however, seem to be doing rather well by that metric. The nation’s largest public sector, New South Wales, has a median age of 45 years, compared to 40 years for the general workforce in the state. Just 18% of the state’s workforce is over 55, compared with 24% of the public service according to the latest Public Sector Commission figures.

Similarly in Victoria, workers aged 50 or over account for 35% of the state’s public sector, but only 27% of the entire workforce. The Victorian Public Sector Commission attributes the difference in its State of the Public Sector report to:

“… nature of the work performed in the public sector, the high proportion of jobs requiring a qualification and the limited number of jobs in which many young people work such as retail and hospitality.”

The biggest shift though comes from the federal public sector, which has aged significantly since 1995 when the percentage of APS employees aged 50 and over was just 14%. That’s more than doubled to 31%.

It’s not just existing employees getting older, either: new hires aged 50 and over have increased from just under 6% in 1995 to 11% today.

However, a Deloitte report into the effect of the ageing workforce on public sectors — based on 2010 workforce figures in four states — warns of challenges ahead in meeting service delivery needs, as a significant percentage of their workforces reach retirement age.

The Western Australia Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Retirement Intentions survey of public sector employees aged 45 and over showed a concerning picture of large majorities intending to leave: 64% within the next 10 years, 32% in less than five years.

With 70,000 of Queensland’s roughly 168,000 public workforce reaching retirement age by 2025, the report expected the QPS to lose around 4500 workers each year — a near doubling of the retirement rate for Queensland. The report warns the sector is far from ready:

“Many of the challenges of an ageing workforce have been discussed for some time both locally and internationally across both the public and private sectors. However, there is little evidence of significant and real response to the challenges occurring within the public sector.”

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.