Supporting older people to remain in the workforce – should we be following Japan?

The ageing of Japan, indeed of any country, is invariably presented in negative terms. Unlike in Japan where older people command a respect born of Confucian tradition, in much of the west older people tend to be marginalised and treated as unproductive members of society.

25 per cent of Japan’s population is currently over 65. By 2035 it is estimated that one in three Japanese will be 65 or older. As a result, the government has invested heavily in what they call Silver Human Resource Centres which deliver support and advice to job seekers over 60. Silver Human Resource Centres (SHRC) have been active since the 1970s to provide community-based temporary and short-term job opportunities for older workers who are in general retired. In, 2015, there were 1 272 centres with approximately 720 000 members. The Japanese experience shows the importance of career guidance for older workers. Just like school-leavers, older workers can benefit from support in transitioning into work which matches their skills, interests and personal circumstances. The key to these services is that in Japan job centres act as brokers, developing profiles of their clients’ skills and experience, and matching them with what businesses need.

Although clients of silver human resource centres usually do not get employed in the same type of jobs that they had before, they do benefit from support in redeploying their skills and experience into new work. Small businesses in Japan in particular have been keen to recruit older workers because they are at a disadvantage compared to large companies in the competition for young talent. Silver Human Resource Centres also deploy the civically minded older people to deliver community services like caring for the elderly or helping with urban regeneration. It’s a win for businesses, who gain experienced and knowledgeable employees, a win for the people who are helped back into work, and a win for the public purse with the expansion of the taxpaying base.

This is important as older people are often seen as a drain on the taxpayer dollar. Ageing also affects the size of the working population. In Japan, there may be more older people, but here are fewer (unproductive) children to worry about, and there are more women in the workforce. Older people are working well past retirement, which means they are both producers and well as consumers. Older people here are also a large percentage of consumers. See What is a silver economy?

Over the other side of the ditch, Australia provides a financial incentive of up to $10,000 (GST inclusive) to encourage businesses to hire and retain mature age employees who are 50 years of age and over.

Currently the New Zealand does not provide any such incentives or programmes to encourage older people to stay into the workforce. But as our population ages, perhaps it should be beginning to plan for this. There needs to be a raise in awareness among employers about the value of experience and productivity of older workers. This also includes raising awareness of the importance of work organisation and the learning environment. This will also help to tackle ageism in the workplace.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.