Historically, we know that when mature-age workers have a period of unemployment, they find it much harder to get back into the workforce. In this respect, job losses among older workers, during Covid-19 could be a challenge to their long-term employment prospects. Older female workers could be particularly hard hit, as women in general have suffered higher job loses than men during the current crisis. Covid-19 has, however, shone a light on new work models which mature aged workers, some of whom will have lost their jobs, may be well placed to exploit.
Even before the virus knocked us for six, the gig economy was expanding significantly. Now, it might provide a lifeline for some. There is evidence that some employers are already replacing full-time workers with a contingent workforce to reduce costs. Mature age workers can be especially vulnerable to job loss because experience often comes with a high price tag. When businesses large and small are struggling to revive and survive, costs will be all important. Contracting and freelance work could provide a short-term solution (and who knows even a longer-term solution if you are successful) while those who have experienced job loss, wait for things to improve economically.
In Australia, this type of work has previously been highlighted as an opportunity for baby boomers in particular. While many contractors were the first to be laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, it may also be where the opportunities are as the economy opens up. Accessing gig work, will not be easy, and there may be fierce competition for jobs, making it is critical to hone your networking skills if you haven’t done it before. Research has shown that professionals between the ages of 45 and 54 are more agile than any other age group in terms of adapting to change. These are skills which will be fundamental to surviving in the gig economy. It should be noted that contract and freelance work are precarious and Covid-19 has also exposed the disadvantages of this type of work. It’s important to go into any new workplace arrangement with your eyes wide open and having done your research.
Among other new emerging work models, talent sharing is one we have heard very little about but has been taken up in some countries overseas. It captures the way companies are forced to innovate during times of crisis. This is a “unique solution” which involves different companies entering into agreements to share talent and, of course the costs, of employing an experienced professional. In Germany, for example, Aldi and McDonalds have such an agreement. While there are complexities that need to be overcome, for example the protection of intellectual property, it could be one answer to saving jobs.
Thinking differently about job roles in favour of skills, also has the potential to support the continued employment of mature-aged workers. In this respect, employers are being advised to focus on the skills that will drive competitive advantage and the rebuilding of businesses. Interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, resilience, adaptability, higher cognitive and digital skills are among those identified by McKinsey. These are the very skills that experienced professionals have often honed over a life-time.
While older and younger workers have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, older workers historically find it more difficult to return to work after significant financial upheavals. Innovative new models of work have the potential to disrupt that pattern but only if business remains open to the benefits of the experience that is the hallmark of mature-aged workers.
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