4th January 2007

Australians can't wait to leave the workforce once they hit 50 causing a looming labour shortage and the dashing of government hopes that people will work into their 70s.

Queensland University of Technology PhD education researcher Megan Tones said Australia's economy could not afford to have large numbers of older people not working.

"It is not just the labour shortage and cost of paying pensions to people for 30 years or more, it is also the fact that people who are engaged in enjoyable work have fewer physical and mental health problems thus reducing health spending," Ms Tones said.

Sectors such as education, health and community services, mining, agricultural, forestry and fishing, utilities and transport would be hardest hit by labour shortages because they have a large proportion of mature-age workers.

"A key reason for the exodus of older workers is ageist and unsupportive workplaces which offer them in unstimulating, unchallenging jobs with no flexibility in working hours," Ms Tones said.

Easy access to income support through private pensions from 55 onwards, and "quite lax" requirements for the disability support pension for older Australians encouraged the early retirement trend.

"Add a strong emphasis on manual labour in the face of declining physical capacity plus limited learning and development opportunities and you have a recipe for poor wellbeing and a desire to get out of the workforce.

"Clearly, older workers need more than just monetary incentives to stay in the workforce."

Ms Tones is researching the patterns of learning and development amongst older workers and the type of organisational support that might improve retention rates.

"My aim is to find ways to utilise older workers' knowledge and experience to their own benefit and that of their workplaces."

Ms Tones will survey at least 500 older workers on opportunities for training, challenging work and other learning and development opportunities.

She said one way to keep mature-age workers could be to offer business training so that they could start their own business or do consulting and thus gain flexible work hours.

"Perhaps current jobs could be changed to be more challenging and less physical for the older worker by moving them in to supervisory or training roles and capitalising on their experience."

She said Australia's early retirement rate was greater than many other OECD countries including the Nordic countries, Japan, USA, Canada and the UK.

Media contact: Niki Widdowson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1841 or n.widdowson@qut.edu.au.

** High res pic of Ms Tones available.

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