October 11, 2013

TAFE's role in meeting the challenges of an older population

By Susan Ryan, AO

TAFEs are evolving institutions, shaped by history, policy, the needs of the community and industry, and their models of funding. They have traditionally been the place for young people to obtain pre-service qualifications before they commence their working lives and still play a major role in this essential work.

As Age Discrimination Commissioner, I am particularly interested in the role TAFEs can play in meeting the challenges of Australia’s changing demographics and workforce requirements. Many older workers need further qualifications and training to re-join and further contribute to the workforce. Increased participation is good for older workers who wish to continue to contribute. It is good for businesses to have skilled, experienced workers. It is also good for the economy: In 2012, Deloitte Access Economics estimated that a three per cent increase in workforce participation of people aged 55 and older would result in a $33 billion boost to GDP – or around 1.6 per cent of national income.

TAFEs need reliable sources of funds from government and from industry so that they can respond to the growing and diverse training requirements of older workers. They need to be resourced to undertake the groundwork, beyond just the provision of courses, to cater effectively to this emerging cohort of students.

What groundwork is required? First, TAFEs must build relationships and make connections to ensure the right training and education is on offer; training that is well matched to available jobs. By working with local employers TAFEs can determine what skill sets are likely to lead to local employment. Strategic planning and relationship building with Job Service Australia providers and relevant policy agencies at all levels of government will assist TAFEs to provide the best service to mature job seekers.

The needs of the community are changing and require changes in available workforce. Significant retraining will be required as workers move from one sector to another. For example, as the population ages, we experience a dramatic increase in the need for aged care workers. The workers in this sector are generally older than the national workforce; the median age for residential direct care workers is 48 years while for community direct care workers it is 50 years. It is an obvious area for those older workers whose previous jobs have gone to target for retraining.

With the recently legislated Living Longer Living Better aged care reform package, the Australian Government is implementing policies to grow and upgrade the aged care sector. The provision of aged care will increasingly focus on the particular and individual needs of the person receiving care, the consumer directed care model. Additional training of existing workers will be required to facilitate this shift. Approximately $332 million over four years has been dedicated to the Age Care Workforce Fund to invest in training education and professional development support to the current and future aged care workforce. TAFEs have a vital role to play in the provision of this training: I would say they have the main role. I hope they are planning now to meet the challenge.

The second area in which TAFEs can lay the groundwork for training of older workers is more complex. It entails directly tackling the stereotypes and perceptions that hold back older people seeking job related training. Deep seated age prejudice in the community and the workforce can discourage older workers from retraining. Many employers still discriminate on the basis of age. Older people, especially those who have involuntarily left the workforce, or the long-term unemployed, need to be encouraged to take up retraining and up-skilling opportunities. The statistics show that people over 55 who are unemployed are more likely to be long-term unemployed than those in younger age groups. In 2010–11, 33 per cent of unemployed people aged 55–64 years were long-term unemployed, compared with 22 per cent of those aged 35–44 and 13 per cent of those aged 15–24. The Australian Government has provided incentives to employers as part of the Experience+ program, and TAFEs need to ensure that they are well placed to provide the services associated with this funding.

TAFEs are indeed well placed to encourage older workers and challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that older workers are not suited to taking up opportunities to retrain. This strategy of encouragement involves tailoring services to the needs of individuals, including older people, and creating a non-discriminatory and inclusive learning environment.

I am pleased to note that some leading TAFEs are already meeting this challenge.

On 23 May 2013, the South West Sydney Institute of TAFE held an all-day forum for over 50s jobseekers, Pathways Back to Work. I was able to attend, and found a vibrant atmosphere, with enthusiastic and dedicated staff and organisers. There was no charge for participation, an important aspect in a region with many socially and economically disadvantaged residents. As a result of excellent organisation and promotion, the forum was well attended and workshops and consultation sessions were popular with participants. As well, participants could access an online “are you ready” tool to assess what level of learning would be suitable to them. There was also friendly access to information on programs and supports available at TAFE to meet an individual’s needs. The extent to which the South West Sydney Institute of TAFE was working to individualise the services they offer was striking and encouraging.

This excellent event demonstrated the existence of strong interest among over 50s from diverse backgrounds in undertaking training to get jobs. The TAFE system, led by dedicated and skilled managers possesses the capacity and resources to make this possible very widely.

Good ideas should be shared. The experience of the South West Sydney Institute of TAFE will, I hope, provide a model for TAFEs throughout NSW and nationally so that all of our TAFE colleges can start to engage and interest older students.

For TAFEs to meet the needs of the older workers and the community, the focus needs to be broad and strategic – analysing the needs of stakeholders and local communities; attracting a diverse cohort of students including older people; and skill-sharing nationally to ensure successful strategies are widely used. Investment in TAFEs to achieve all this would be more than justified.

Resourcing and bolstering the TAFE system to provide training for older people, and assisting employers to understand the business benefits of older workers would benefit older people who want and need greater job opportunities. Increased participation of older Australians would also bring broader economic benefits, increasing the productive capacity of the economy and countering some of the challenges of an ageing population.


Deloitte Access Economics ‘Increasing participation among older workers: The grey army advances’, (2012), Deloitte Access Economics, p i.
Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing, The Aged Care Workforce, 2012 – Final Report, Executive Summary. At http://health.gov.au/internet/publications/publish... (viewed on 23 July 2013).
Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Long-term Unemployment’, 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends, Sept 2011 (September 2011). At http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/410... (viewed 3 August 2012).
Australian Government, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Applying for an Experience+ Jobs Bonus. At http://deewr.gov.au/applying-experience-jobs-bonus (viewed 25 July 2013).