The future of work, older workers and the gig economy

by Kate Marshall

Forget the robots. The future of work is already here. Freelancer, Upwork, TaskRabbit, FlexJobs, AirTasker, Expert360 – these are just a few of the many digital freelance marketplaces that are powering the rapidly advancing ‘gig economy’ in Australia. Some companies are even developing their own freelance management systems.

And it’s not just younger workers driving this trend. It’s workers of all ages, life stages and levels who are looking for more flexibility and autonomy in their working lives. Research by Deloitte has shown that by 2020, 40 per cent of the workforce in the United States will be freelance and contingent – Australia’s is likely to be no different.

Considerations for managing older workers in the gig economy

To remain attractive to workers in the future, here’s a couple of considerations for managing older workers in this new world of work.

  • Decoupling age and experience from job descriptions and wage

For what appears to be the first time in the history of work, the gig economy (made up of independent contractors, contingent workers, freelancers, temp workers) presents older workers with a way to bypass the age biases and discrimination of conventional workplaces. Indeed, most digital freelance marketplaces are age-agnostic. They allow prospective workers to compete for a job based on the relevance of their skills and expertise to the project or task, no matter how old they are. Therefore, the chances of not being hired because of being “overqualified” or being perceived as “too old” to work are much diminished.

  • Getting serious about flexible working arrangements

Even if your company isn’t yet considering supplementing their workforce with gig workers, the growing desire to work flexibly is an increasing trend. Indeed, 85 percent of Australians consider traditional 9 to 5 office hours to be inflexible for both present and future workers – of all ages. Flexible work arrangements are particularly attractive to older workers who are often content to work part-time, and are not looking for career progression nor a huge salary. It’s also not uncommon for people 50+ to develop a portfolio career vs retaining a traditional 9 to 5 job.

Implications for training & talent management

  • Remaining competitive in the talent war

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, if organisations wish to recruit the best people for the job, the focus must be on concrete skills and expertise rather than people’s age or previous level of seniority. Consequently, age-objective hiring strategies are essential.

  • Retaining the best talent

We are reminded constantly that today’s workforce will need to engage in lifelong learning to keep their skills up-to-date and to remain relevant. Consequently, creating a culture of learning that supports and encourages people of all ages to engage with ongoing education ensures workforce skills remain relevant. This approach is also most likely to attract and retain talent. Workers are able to adapt and more easily evolve their careers in ways they may not have imagined possible.

Act now to stay ahead

A recent survey of 500 UK employers showed that as few as 20% are discussing strategies for managing older workers. Whilst a similar survey has not been conducted in Australia, our experience tells us that even fewer employers would be considering older workers in their strategic planning. Ultimately, the gig economy will force all organisations to restructure their workforces. It’s the organisations that act now that will pull ahead and reap the benefits of a more diverse workforce. The laggards will fall further behind.

About the Author

Kate Marshall

Kate was a management consultant and project manager who worked for Catherine Rickwood, (previously Three Sisters Group). She is now following her passions as a language teacher and tutor specialising in French and German.

Catherine Rickwood is solutions-focussed, working with innovative organisations keen to improve customer and employee insights and empathy to increase their success in new markets, build loyalty, and increase innovation. She does this using a co-design process that engages employees and key stakeholders to create collaborative solutions. Contact Catherine to discover how her services can support your organisation to harness the changing demographic reality.

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