New Zealand has exceptionally high workforce participation among older people. This high participation rate is influenced by several factors, including the country’s acute demand for skills and labor, an interest among some older adults to continue working, and a desire and/or need for supplemental income. With participation rates already so high, the government has primarily focused its attention on youth workforce participation, while NGOs and the private sector are developing job placement, entrepreneurship, and lifelong learning opportunities for older adults in New Zealand.
In 2016, the labor force participation rate of those age 65 and older was 24.3 percent, fifth in the OECD and up from just 7.7 percent in the year 2000. The government projects that a third of older people will be active in the workforce in 2068.
“It’s kind of like [an] all-hands-on-deck approach. [The attitude is], If you can help out, no matter what the age and stage, we need you.”
– Kate Ross, Recruiter, and Founder of Wise Ones
The private sector and NGOs are leading efforts to retain or place older workers. One such effort is Wise Ones, a job portal specifically targeted to those age 50 and older. The project was launched in 2017 to offer older adults in New Zealand a platform to market themselves to employers. The site began as a job portal in reverse, where those age 50 and older would post profiles detailing their experience and expectations.
Responding to interest from employers, the site has already evolved to include a more traditional space where employers can post job listings targeting older people. Close to 900 candidates signed up to the site in the first six months with close to 130 companies doing the same. Reaction from candidates and employers alike has been positive, said Ross, whose efforts extend beyond the portal to persuading corporations that older workers are desirable, even without a labor shortage. Small and medium-sized businesses have been especially receptive to older candidates, because they either need people on an ad hoc basis or cannot afford a full-time employee. The human resources and finance sectors have also been ideal for older workers who can do accounting, help with human resources strategy and employment contracts, or manage staff.
Despite the labor shortage, just a fraction of companies offer flexible arrangements for older workers, though sites such as Wise Ones may help to shift that mindset. Although a high percentage of Wise Ones candidates do not want to work more than 30 hours per week, Ross notes the value of experience, citing that older adults in New Zealand are saying, “Offer me the flexibility, and I’ll get twice as much done.”