Australian businesses not hiring aged workers despite skills gap, survey reveals

The majority of Australian businesses are suffering a skills gap despite an aging workforce willing to go to work, according to a new survey from the Australian Institute of Management, and those which have avoided it have done so through internal promotion and training.

The survey, which questioned more than 1,700 Australians, comes just weeks after the Federal Government announced a new initiative to provide employers a $1,000 bonus if they hire aged workers.

“Mature aged Australians, whether they’re in the workforce or have retired in recent years, have a wealth of knowledge and job ‘know-how’ that can provide savvy employers with a competitive edge,” said AIM VT chief executive Susan Heron.

Of those businesses surveyed, 77% said they were suffering a skills gap in the 2011-12 year, although that’s down from 82% in the previous year. But it ranges across companies of all sizes, with 65% of businesses with 1-20 employees suffering a gap, and 79% of businesses with 21-50 employees.

Middle managers are the biggest missing link at 40%, followed by team leaders and supervisors at 35%, and senior managers at 27%.

Experts suggest many middle managers were laid off at the onset of the global financial crisis, leading to the current shortage.

The sales and marketing department is the most common area of shortage, according to the survey, at 22%, followed by corporate and customer service at 10% and engineering at 9%.

The consequences of the shortage are hard-hitting. Stress on other employees is seen as the worst effect, cited by 62%, followed by lower staff morale at 52%, along with losing some high performing employees at 42%.

Of the businesses surveyed, 15% say they have lost market share to competitors and, over the next 12 months, 47% say the gap will have a greater impact on business.

And while employers have a large workforce of aged workers to hire, the study actually says Gen-X workers aged between 34 and 47 are among the biggest gap, at 46%. The gap for baby boomers is only cited at 15%.

However, Heron says businesses aren’t tapping into the massive opportunity to hire aged workers. Only 21% of those surveyed said their organizations had programs to access these skills.

“The pattern revealed by our survey is that companies are placing great reliance on training and other costly internal means to try to close their skills gap, but the one potential resource they are overlooking are their older and experienced staff. It’s a skills blind spot.”

“So, there’s a huge upside for our nation’s skills hungry employers if they can better tap into the experience and capabilities of older Australians.”

Out of the companies that managed to avoid a skills gap, the most popular reason for doing so was “a strong commitment to training and development”, cited by 69% of businesses, with “promoting internal job candidates” at 58%.

The survey also found that “leadership” was the skill most lacking from businesses, cited by 45% of respondents, while “process and project management skills” was listed second at 39%, followed by “technical and industry specific skills” at 35%.

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