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Age before beauty in competitive job market

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A quarter of the people working for hardware giant Bunnings are aged over 50.

Bunnings store operations director Michael Schneider says hiring older workers isn’t an exercise in meeting quotas or being nice – it’s a deliberate and successful strategy.

“As a business leader I see it as a strong commercial driver in a growing business,” Mr Schneider said at a National Seniors Australia event on Friday.

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“Having such experience helps engage and energise our team, it ensures confidence and trust for our customers, and most importantly it helps our business learn, grow and benefit from the collegiality and insight that these team members bring to our business.”

National Seniors, a lobby group for over 50s, launched its new Age Management Toolkit on Friday with the help of Mr Schneider and federal Treasurer Joe Hockey.

The toolkit is a guide to hiring and retaining staff and aimed at making other employers as enthusiastic about older workers as Mr Schneider is.

Statistics quoted by National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill show such enthusiasm is far from reality at present.

Bunnings employee Tony Mebberson, 78.
Bunnings employee Tony Mebberson, 78.

“An extended time out of work for people in their 50s too often means not returning to the workforce,” he said at the launch, held in the Bunnings outlet at Chatswood, a northern Sydney suburb in Mr Hockey’s electorate.

“For those who are able to return, it takes about 72 weeks nationally, and in NSW up to 95 weeks, before they get another job.”

With projections showing the number of people over 65 will grow at triple the rate of working-age Australians in the next decade, the trend has serious implications for the sustainability of Australia’s already overburdened aged care and health systems in the future.

But Mr O’Neill warns the attitude to older workers is already causing damage.

Time out of work, or leaving work altogether, means lower superannuation, higher demands on the age pension, mental and physical health impacts and a loss from the economy of decades of experience.

Tony Mebberson, 78, works four days a week at Bunnings Chatswood dispensing far more experienced advice than the customers probably realise.

A mechanical engineer by profession and before that a qualified fitter, he ran his own engineering business until being forced to close during the 2008 financial crisis.

Retirement wasn’t to his liking, so he started a new career in hardware.

“I enjoy it,” he says.

Mr Schneider says his staff have a huge mix of experience: between 30 and 50 per cent have a trade background but he also counts retired lawyers and even a former judge among the national workforce.


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