Ageing and the Future of Work

Judith Davey 22/3/19

In early March I attended a seminar in Wellington given by Professor Peter Gahan, Professor of Management at the University of Melbourne. It was entitled “Disruptive technologies: what might these mean for the future of work and the future of work-related policy?” The question immediately in the minds of most of the audience was probably “Are robots taking our jobs? “

This was certainly relevant, but Prof. Gahan assured us that technological change creates more jobs than it destroys; that for most of us, new technology is transformative, rather than disruptive; but that technology alters the bundle of skills, tasks and responsibilities that make up a job.

The growth sectors in employment are likely to include –
• Infrastructure & urban development
• Environment and sustainability
• Technology, research and engineering
• Health and human services.

What caught my attention was Prof Gahan’s identification of demography as a major factor in the future of work and the fact that he was giving another presentation the next day in Auckland entitled “Everyone’s future: Planning for an ageing workforce”. So, as soon as I could, I found the link to this presentation.

Prof Gahan’s main messages were that social attitudes are changing, and workforce diversity is increasing in many ways, especially by age as I have emphasised in earlier blogs. “Generational diversity”, as Prof Gahan terms is, has both pros and cons. Older people have different ways of working, different expectations about what work will deliver and different life cycle demands.

These could lead to Intergenerational conflict (a topic I will address one of these days). But, on the pro side, older workers can offer different strengths and skill sets; they can share experience and knowledge and transfer skills. With a diverse and multi-generational workforce there is the potential for better decision-making, for creativity and innovation. These are things we know from local research, but it was good to hear it from an expert in management.

So, some of the management mind-sets which are needed in the future workplace include a re-thinking of what people of different ages can offer – “(ability in) coding is not everything”; an emphasis on upskilling and job crafting so that there can be transferability instead of redundancy; and the thoughtful negotiation of change and transition.

But working against the potential benefits of older workers and mixed age workforces are ingrained beliefs and prejudices. Those relating to older workers were summed up in an illustration:

Where groups are attributed particular characteristics, irrespective of individual differences among members of that group, this leads to stereotypes, hence to prejudice and hence to discrimination. Prof.Gahan gave several examples of studies which supported this analysis. In some cases, selection criteria led to bias in assessing job candidates, which may be unconscious. It may depend on who is making the selection – age differences between the recruiter and the job candidate. Diversity in the interview panel can reduce bias. And it is also possible that ageist beliefs can be internalised by older workers themselves – leading to self-discrimination – despite any evidence supporting them.

As I said, these findings are not new and have been presented in local research. But it was good to have them promulgated by a Professor of Management, from Australia no less, and to an audience of government officials and policy-makers.

 

[1] Both seminars were sponsored by the Australia-New Zealand School of Government and the PPTs can be found at https://www.anzsog.edu.au/resource-library/resources-tlss

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About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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