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Whether by choice or necessity, more Australians are embracing working for longer. Yet there are obstacles to overcome when you’re looking for work in your 50s and older.
While stereotypes of older workers being out of touch persist, research shows a growing number of over 50s are ahead of the game when it comes to being tech savvy and keeping up with the latest trends.
According to research from the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia’s new wave of entrepreneurs are aged between 55 and 64. These ‘seniorpreneurs’ are experienced, driven business owners who head up around 34% of Australian firms and are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs in the country.
Associate Professor Alex Maritz from Swinburne University says older workers often have more skills, time and money to contribute to the economy than younger people. “There has been little recognition of the potential of older Australians to participate in start-ups and turn them into larger businesses that employ people, or of the need for older Australians to create their next job, not just apply for it,” he says.
The Australian Seniors 100 Year Lifespan Report released in January this year shows that more older Australians are delaying retirement to stay in the workforce. Of the 5000 over 50s surveyed, more than half (53%) say their careers define them, or have defined them in the past, and two in five (40%) plan to continue working for as long as they can.
Unfortunately, almost nine in 10 (87%) believe ageism in the workplace is a serious issue, and four in five (80%) think the government isn’t doing enough to entice businesses to employ older Australians.
The research also suggests ageist views can lead to poorer physical and mental health and society itself could be adding to the fears that come with ageing. The reality, however, is that many of us are grappling with worries as we age. More than two in five (41%) fear losing their physical heath and almost three in ten (29%) fear losing their mental health as they get older.
Barbara, 57, was offered a retrenchment last year and took it. After working as a personal assistant in Sydney for almost a decade, she was ready to find something new. Despite top-shelf credentials and years of experience, Barbara found landing another job more difficult than she had anticipated.
“I applied for many positions, but it always came down to me and one other applicant,” says Barbara. “I kept missing out and I convinced myself that it was my age. The other applicants were younger than me and it is cheaper to employ someone less experienced.
“Some companies prefer to have a younger person at reception because it gives a better first impression that their business is up to date. After a while my self-confidence suffered.”
Susan is an executive in the fashion industry. At 62, she admits using Botox and fillers to hide the signs of ageing. “We live in a society that worships youthfulness and beauty,” says Susan. “Women over 50 feel the pressure to remain young and attractive if they want to stay employed.”
A 2017 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US shows female jobseekers face more age discrimination than males. Of course, men experience ageism as well, but the research shows that as men age, they are viewed as more valuable and competent in the workplace, whereas women lose their credibility with every new wrinkle.
“Physical appearance matters more for women than men,” says Susan. “When looking for employment, older women come up against ageism and sexism. It’s a double whammy.”
Switching career paths
These days, we no longer imagine having a job for life. More and more often, workers develop a portfolio of careers over their lifetime, sometimes having four or more different work paths.
Julie, 55, trained as a nurse in the UK before migrating to Australia 25 years ago. In her thirties she changed her career course and became a journalist. She now runs her own social marketing company from the Gold Coast.
“Because I work remotely, age is rarely a factor,” says Julie. “That is until I meet clients face to face and they’re a little surprised to see that I’m not a young thirty-something like most people in marketing. The average age of marketing directors is 40.”
Julie believes experience is key to her success. “Qualifications are important, but so is life experience and independent learning,” she says. “You don’t have to be a journalist to write a blog and you don’t have to train in IT to build a website. More often than not, it’s our fear of failure that holds us back.”
After being in IT her whole working life, Bambi Price started her own IT business at age 50. “As I entered this phase of my life, I still felt really young and I knew I had a lot more to give,” she says.
Bambi is also a co-founder of the Melbourne-based SeniorPreneurs Foundation, which aims to support mature-age people interested in starting their own businesses. She says older people bring a wealth of knowledge to small businesses.
“Entrepreneurship is commonly seen as being just for young people, but most entrepreneurs are over 40. There is an untapped pool of people over 50 who wish to start a new enterprise to generate revenue for themselves, perhaps for the first time,” says Bambi.
Neil, 61, is a businessman from Port Macquarie. Looking to change his career direction, Neil took on a franchise with a dog grooming company three years ago. He paid $15,000 and in less than a year doubled his income and built a loyal customer base through hard work and regular posts on Facebook – who doesn’t love a cute dog pic?
“It’s about keeping overheads down and putting in the hours or you won’t succeed,” says Neil. “Before I bought the franchise, I did two trial days and when I got home my wife said, I don’t even need to ask how it went; I can see it on your face.”