In October 2022, the National Skills Commission* reported that the number of occupations experiencing skills shortages had nearly doubled since their report the year prior. That insight, coupled with Australia’s record-low unemployment rate** is reason alone to lean on the skills of existing employees, says Beverley Bradley (Bev), Chair of Suncorp’s LIFE-X Employee Resource Group (ERG). But there are significantly more reasons beyond necessity to employ the expertise of older employees, says Bev, and in fact, the life experience of this cohort can offer a diverse and important perspective that’s very much needed in 2023.
Bev says the LIFE-X ERG focuses on supporting Suncorp’s cohort of employees over the age of 50. Its 749 members are made up of both employees in the 50+ age group and their leaders, who have access to regular training programs, newsletters and resources that are specifically selected for employees in this life stage. The group is pillared by its mission, “Looking forward, giving back”; referring to the support offered to its members in the transition they make to retirement, through different career stages, and the knowledge offered by its senior members to those newer to the workforce.
“In a country where skills shortages are at their highest, we should be encouraging and enabling mature employees to share their expertise with the younger workforce to bridge the gap between ‘a lot of knowledge’ and ‘not enough’,” says Bev.
LIFE-X was founded in 2018 on the back of increased demand for upskilling programs and tailored support for over 50s. Since its inception, the group of volunteers that make up the LIFE-X committee have stuck to their mantra – offering learning opportunities to its members each week, often presented with a keynote speaker, delivered virtually and recorded for members to revisit in the future. The learning opportunities range from technological upskilling to lifestyle coaching sessions pertaining to superannuation and finance management after full-time work.
The group also teamed up with Suncorp’s Innovation ERG, Evolve to develop a mentoring program called ‘Ment2Learn’, pairing two employees (often intergenerationally) to create a reciprocal mentoring relationship based on skills sharing, life experiences, coaching and support.
Bev Bradley, Chair of Suncorp's LIFE-X ERG
We’re a diverse group of people at Suncorp. That’s truly important because at the heart of it, we need to be able to identify with, and put ourselves in the shoes of our customers.
Internationally, the University of the Third Age (U3A) movement has been growing exponentially, enabling many mature employees and newly retired people to partake in learning opportunities – and share their own expertise – via an independent U3A body. In Australia, the movement began in 1984 and has now grown to approximately 100,000 members across 300 U3As in 2023.
Many older employees aren’t ready to throw in the towel yet, says Bev, and organisations need to consider a change to the traditional “cold turkey” retirement style. She says that organisations need to consciously encourage and empower over 50s to retain their employment for longer, or at minimum, enable a longer transition period to retirement.
“We’re a diverse group of people at Suncorp. That’s truly important because at the heart of it, we need to be able to identify with, and put ourselves in the shoes of our customers,” Bev says.
“Many of our employees have skills that only come with experience. Organisations need to put programs in place where we empower mature employees to gradually scale down their work before they fully retire, allowing a longer, seamless handover and a transfer of much-needed organisational skills to their successors.”
Regardless of life experience, many Aussies are struggling to obtain new methods of employment once they surpass the age of 50. In May 2022, there were an estimated 171,600 Australians aged 55-64 who were unemployed, but would prefer to be working if the conditions were right. Of that, 43.1 per cent were skilled and 20.2 per cent had degrees***.
Bev says that this data speaks volumes to the ‘indirect discrimination’ that a lot of ageing workers face.
“Many of those people who find themselves unemployed might have looked for a career change, or are even just looking for an organisation willing to be flexible,” she says.
There’s a lot of opportunity at the right organisations, like Suncorp, to access training and resources that enable employees over 50 to be equipped with the skills that younger people in the workforce have.
Bev says that the over 50s cohort are facing a lot of misconceptions, like older employees not being interested in progression or learning opportunities. In Bev’s own experience however, those claims are completely unfounded.
“Life doesn’t stop at 50,” says Bev. “Many people in our generation are seeking a different kind of change; an opportunity to ‘give back’ to the workforce they’ve been a part of for so long. It’s fantastic to enable that opportunity with the LIFE-X at Suncorp.”