PwC’s Golden Age index has this week revealed that New Zealand as a whole is employing more older workers than just about any other country, but the retail industry still skews young. As New Zealand’s population continues to age, retailers may stand to miss out on the customer service and expertise offered by older workers.
The Golden Age index rates how successful each of the 34 OECD countries measured are in employing workers aged over 55. New Zealand was rated as the second most effective country, behind only Iceland.
PwC partner and business adviser Scott Mitchell says the ranking suggests that current conditions are working well for the government, employers and older workers.
“From our Golden Age Index, we can say New Zealand is leading the way, along with Iceland, Israel and countries in Scandanavia, in harnessing the economic power of older workers. This is increasingly important for the New Zealand economy to boost growth and support organisations in sourcing talent.”
However, he warned that employers and the government shouldn’t get complacent. Statistics New Zealand says New Zealand’s population structure is in the process of changing significantly. The number of people aged 65 and over has doubled since 1980, and is likely to double again by 2036 as baby boomers age.
By 2036, Statistics NZ expects that nearly a quarter of Kiwis will be aged 65+.
“Dynamics will change within the next five years as older workers consider their financial choices and businesses should be thinking about how they can utilise the experience and skills of this generation,” Mitchell says. “Increased flexibility, job redesign, career breaks and role shifts could help engage older workers to keep them in the workforce for longer.”
Mitchell says the aging population poses the following opportunities and challenges:
– Businesses making better use of the skills and experience of older workers can gain a competitive advantage at a time when the average age of customers is rising.
– Employers may need to rethink their attitudes to training for older workers, so this does not ‘stop at 50’.
– An ageing workforce may demand different approaches to reward in terms of the balance between salary, pensions and healthcare benefits.
– Companies would benefit from doing a comprehensive audit of their age profile that covers recruitment, retention, training, reward and performance.
Service IQ’s 2014 report, ‘A profile of the retail sector in New Zealand’ used data from the 2013 census to determine that retailers have 25 percent fewer workers aged over 55 than the national average. Fifteen percent of the retail workforce were over 55 in 2013, compared with almost 20 percent across all industries.
The Service IQ report also says retail has a much higher proportion of very young workers than the national average. Staff aged 15 to 19 make up 15.8 percent of the retail workforce, versus a national 10.6 percent.
According to the report, the number of relatively low-skilled, part-time jobs in retail is attractive to younger workers who are likely to fit their retail roles around study, and the physical nature of many retail positions does not appeal to older workers.
These demographics did change between censuses. The youngest employees declined in number substantially between 2006 and 2013, while the number of older workers increased. This suggests that retailers took on fewer junior recruits during the harder economic years, and also echoes a trend seen in teaching and nursing where older workers delay retirement.
Can retail accommodate more older workers? As the population ages, it may have to.