It’s time to shift the conversation about older workers from costs and dependence. The economic muscle of the “silver economy” can be accessed with new policy approaches that lift the workforce participation of 55-64 year olds, in turn supporting our nation’s regional economic performance.
That’s the key message from a recent report from the Regional Australia Institute, entitled Ageing and work in regional Australia: Pathways for accelerating economic growth.
Such a shift also provides great opportunities for Australian community education vocational education and training (VET) providers, says Community Colleges Australia CEO, Dr Don Perlgut.
“The challenge to engage and train older Australians in work has to be done sensitively by organisations that know how to engage with them,” said Dr Perlgut. “Many years ago, I started a Certificate IV at TAFE – I was in my early 30s, and found myself in an environment that did not cater for people over 30, much less someone in their 50s. If I was less motivated, I certainly would have dropped out.”
What’s the answer to engaging and up-skilling potential older workers? - Australia’s community education providers, often known as “community colleges”, says Dr Perlgut.
“In 2016 in New South Wales, some 35% of students of community education providers receiving government-funded VET courses were aged 45 or over. This compares to 21% of TAFE and only 15% of private for-profit provider students receiving government funding. Our sector knows how to deliver to older workers and those returning to work,” said Dr Perlgut.
National Policy Recommendations to support
The Regional Australia Institute report includes a number of recommendations for older and mature workers engaging in study, two of which CCA strongly supports:
- Increase access to Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) accreditation for workers who have already gained skills, experience and knowledge through previous courses or work experience to expedite completion of new qualifications/accreditation.
- Create dedicated programs for mature workers for training and skills development, including job matching services to meet local industry demand.
Ensure that the Career Transition Assistance Program Utilises Community Providers
CCA is keen to ensure that community education providers can participate in the Australian Government’s pilot Career Transition Assistance Program (announced in 2017 for a 1 July 2018 start). Aimed at workers 50 and older, this program will deliver a short, intensive course consisting of skills assessments, exploration of suitable occupations, research of local labour markets and learning resilience strategies. The five trial regions are Ballarat (VIC), Somerset (QLD), Central West (NSW), Adelaide South (SA) and Perth North (WA). A national roll-out is planned for 2010.
Older Australians Facts
The Regional Australia Institute highlights the following key facts drawn from the 2016 Census:
- Australia’s growing older population is a distinctly regional issue. Ageing is accelerating in many regions but stable in the cities. Since 2011, the median age for both Sydney and Melbourne didn’t budge from 36 while rising in NSW and Victoria from 41 to 43.
- The Age Pension is already the largest expenditure item in the Federal Budget at $45 billion annually. If nothing changes, it is forecast to blow out to an unsustainable $51 billion by 2020. (In other words, governments of all political stripes are going to become increasing desperate to halt this increase, says Dr Perlgut.)
- Certain Australian regions, including Victor Harbor (SA), Port-Macquarie-Hastings (NSW), and East Gippsland (VIC), already have 20% or more of the population reliant on the Age Pension.