Silver economy booming in New Zealand

A significant silver economy is developing in New Zealand where older people are not only growing in numbers in the workforce but making increasing contributions as taxpayers and consumers.

Minister at Silver Symposium 2016

At the Silver Economy Symposium in Tauranga, businesses were told this sector is often overlooked or ignored.

But it offers many opportunities as, within the decade, there will be more seniors than children.

Seniors Minister Maggie Barry opened the forum and announced Sir Jon Trimmer MBE, Donald Sew Hoy QSM and Peter Chin CNZM as new SuperSeniors Champions.

They join other high-profile New Zealanders who show turning a certain age doesn’t mean fading into the background.

The three continue to work, part of a recent trend where a growing number of older people who have skills and experience, continue making a valuable contribution, either as volunteers or in paid work.

It’s predicted nearly one in three seniors, 30 percent of those aged 65-plus or more than 400,000 people, will be part of the workforce by 2051, although employers are reluctant to hire those over 50.

Ms Barry says this is a missed opportunity.

“It’s time to debunk the myth older workers are past their use-by date.

“The skills and experience they bring can be very valuable to a business, and it, and the economy as a whole benefits.”

Workers, volunteers, taxpayers, consumers

As well as participating in paid work, it’s estimated older people contributed a total of $8.5 billion to their communities through unpaid and voluntary work.

They have spent hours visiting older people, delivering meals, taking care of elderly parents or neighbours or assisting with childcare. This voluntary contribution is projected to grow to $35 billion by 2051.

Additionally, their role as taxpayers is growing. In 2011 seniors paid $0.4 billion in income tax revenue but this is projected to grow to $2 billion by 2051.

Seniors are also pumping more and more money into the economy with their spending set to increase from $14 billion to $65 billion, by 2051.

Ms Barry urged companies to take note of the expanding and increasingly important 65-plus , asector.

“This represents opportunities for businesses to think about what would be useful for this market, from healthcare needs to fitness products and services, to care in the home.”

Productive older workers' graph

There is also an opportunity for businesses to employ or retain older workers.

PWC’s latest Golden Age Index shows New Zealand is near the top of rankings when it comes to helping older workers keep working.

In many countries it is mandatory to leave the workforce by a certain age.

But the report found New Zealand has the right settings because there is no retirement age.

Plus, people aged 65-plus are not penalised for working in older age.

However, instances of age discrimination at work or while job-hunting for older New Zealanders are too high.

That directly undermines one of the report’s main recommendations which was to reduce employment barriers for older workers.

Perceptions of older workers as “past their use-by date”, “unproductive” and are “taking jobs from the young” are wrong.

Myth busting

Research conducted by the Office for Seniors and the Human Rights Commission show older workers were generally viewed as being more productive than their younger counterparts.

Within the Crown Entity sector, 44 percent of employers noted there was a shortage of highly experienced workers in their industry. Similarly, one in three (33 percent) agreed older workers were a relatively untapped resource.

Research confirms that far from wearing people down, work can actually inspire people to be productive and fit.

By 2025, New Zealand will have more seniors than children 14 and under.

This will mean proportionally fewer young people leaving high school, fewer young apprentices and tertiary education graduates, and the result will be skill shortages in many areas.

It’s not that older workers will be keeping young people out of the job market; in many areas there simply won’t be enough young people to fill the gaps.

Older people need to be encouraged to stay in the workforce but there are impediments.

Shortly after the PWC report was released, the Commission for Financial Capability revealed businesses in New Zealand were ill-prepared for an ageing workforce.

The vast majority, 83 percent, of businesses have no policies or strategies in place for workers aged over 50.

This at the same time as there's an increasing pool of skilled 50, 60 and some 70 year olds who want to work.

However, older workers (those over 50) currently take twice as long to secure a job than other age groups.

Being 65 today is not what it was 50 years ago.

Current trends suggest we will be fitter, healthier and more active for longer, and more willing and able to participate in the workforce as the longevity revolution continues.