Employment for older workers on the agenda at APEC

Griffith University education lecturer Professor Stephen Billett will head to Oxford University

Older workers may be hit hardest by the financial impact of the COVID pandemic, according to a Griffith University adult education expert.

Professor Stephen Billett presented at an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum about the re-employment of older workers.

His APEC presentation was based on extensive research across Australia and Singapore.

“Many of the countries in our region have ageing populations, including Australia,” he said.

“The massive disruptions that COVID has had on the labour market have disproportionately impacted older workers, many of whom will not ever work again.

“The federal government’s response was to offer wage subsidies for workers between the ages of 16 and 35, which is going to have an obvious impact.”

Professor Billett said older women were among those most disadvantaged by the COVID-induced economic recession.

“Many of the government aid packages have been directed towards male-dominated work, but COVID has hit female-dominated professions the hardest,” he said.

“If you are an older, single woman with reduced levels of superannuation, you can end up impoverished.”

Professor Billett is an expert on adult vocational education in the School of Education and Professional Studies.

He retrained in mid-life, moving from a career in the fashion and textile industry to a new career in TAFE and later academia.

Professor Billett said it was important to challenge negative perceptions that older workers can’t adapt to the challenges of a changing workplace.

“We need to value the diverse skills brought by all generations in the workplace,” he said.

“There is a perception that older workers cannot learn but evidence contradicts this claim. Many of the qualities we value in employees are found in older workers — from problem solving and punctuality to the ability to work autonomously.”

Professor Billett said providing access to continuing education and training was the best way to promote the employability of older workers.

“It’s about valuing life-long learning and providing training that respects and engages older workers,” he said.