Retrenchment: Options for the over 50s

Losing your job at any age is no fun, but when you find yourself re-entering the job market in your 50s and beyond a new set of factors can come into play.
Image: © Yuri Arcurs -

Losing your job at any age is no fun, but when you find yourself re-entering the job market in your 50s and beyond, you may find yourself confronting the ‘grey ceiling’.

Personal circumstances dictate how people respond to retrenchment, says MoneyHelp financial counsellor Dianne Dejanovic. “People may have received an excellent payout and be financially secure through investments such as property,” she says. “Conversely, they may be feeling the pressures of paying a mortgage, be in a second marriage and have dependents, and be worried about their skills and qualifications and how they are going to market themselves. It can be a huge trauma to go through.”

But while it may be while since they’ve completed their studies, older workers have valuable life experience skills, as well as those obtained through their jobs, that younger workers simply can’t compete with. Simon Meyer, Managing Director of the Australian arm of recruitment firm Michael Page International, says some industries often favour more mature workers.

“If you’re in a change management environment, such as government and not for profit sectors, where there is a strong change agenda, the best candidate is often someone who’s got more practical experience, as opposed to gaining it for the first time when they step into the position,” he explains.

“They’re often after someone who’s already been in a role like that, or done it two or three times. They’re the ones that are going to have the context and the perspective to deal with the challenges that come up.”

Research into managerial styles from the Department of Management at Monash University and the Australian Institute of Management also raises the value of older workers, who were found to be just as valuable to economic and social growth as younger workers, bringing assets such as experience and psychological stability to the work place.

‘Youngins’ need not apply’

With the value of older workers being increasingly recognised, and an ageing population combined with a skills shortage, there are more services being dedicated to job seekers who fall in this age bracket.

Jobs Services Australia  is a government service that provides specialised assistance for the over-50s who are looking for work. Depending on your eligibility, a job services provider can work with you to address barriers to employment, access training and other support such as re-skilling in areas that are in demand. You may also be eligible for access to the Employment Pathway Fund, which can be used to purchase assistance to help you get the right training to fund and keep a job.

From July 1, 2012, the Australian Government will pay training grants of up to $4,400 to an employer for each worker aged 50 years and over, in a $20 million, two-year scheme designed to help mature workers to fill skills gaps and obtain a nationally recognised qualification at the Certificate III to Advanced Diploma level. Mature age workers seeking a change in direction are also able to apply for apprenticeships through Australian Apprenticeships.

Job sites aimed at the mature age market, such as Adage, connect jobseekers aged 45 years and over with employers who are seeking experience for their roles. Job seekers can register their profiles for free, and have them accessed by interested employers, as well as obtain access to niche job types, including consulting, part-time positions, board seats and directorships. links to TAFE and training courses for older workers wishing to upgrade their skills. It also provides news updates and useful articles on topics such as how older job hunters can counter ‘ageist’ attitudes by employers when going for a job interview.

Many employers who use mature age job sites seek older workers for attributes such as stability, the ability to mentor younger workers, and quality skill sets brought to new roles from years of experience. And loyalty may very well come into play when it comes to a mature worker versus a Gen-Y applicant; a 2009 study by the Australian Institute for Social Research found that workers aged 45 years and over will stay with an organisation on average 2.4 times longer than under-45s.

Upgrade versus upsell

It may not be necessary to upgrade your skills, but simply learn how to sell yourself better, argues Tim Roche from outplacement firm Right Management, who claims retrenchment can present opportunities to discover the right job fit.

“If you have the right ability and the emotional intelligence it may not be necessary to re-skill, as long as you’re able to articulate your transferrable skill sets.

“A person working in the oil refinery sector, for example, who is able to demonstrate transferrable skills in problem solving and technical environments could be utilised in the mining sector.”

A rather unique case Roche worked on, which did include up-skilling, involved an orthopaedic surgeon who decided to transition into a top tier consulting firm. He completed an MBA and shifted into an area where he used his abilities in strategy, research and discovery that he’d used as a surgeon to guide organisations. Following that, he made another shift into telecommunications.

There are plenty of over-50s who make transitions into entirely new areas after their job is made redundant. Starting up your own businesses or consultancy can be an attractive option if you have good capital behind you, says Roche. Mature workers who are considering this option could be eligible for assistance through Job Services Australia’s New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS), which offers accredited small business training, business advice and mentoring, as well as ongoing income support for up to 52 weeks.

Retrenchment can also provide the opportunity to consider more flexible work options such as part-time or contract work that provides a transition into retirement. Who knows, being retrenched could turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you.

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