Sixty is the new 40.

Six days a week, every week, Fay Morley worked in her tiny shop selling buttons, zippers and other bric-a-brac until the day before she died, just two weeks after she turned 100 in August 2013.  

While Morley, whose shop was in Sydney’s seaside suburb of Manly, chose to work because it kept her happy  (“Coming to work every day is a kind of therapy for me,” she told Australia's Daily Telegraph that year), it’s likely more and more Australians will work longer than people in other parts of the world.  

Australians can currently access their age pension and, consequently, retire at 65, however legislation passed in May 2014, increases the retirement age (in gradual increments) to 70 for 2035. Those Australians born after 1965 won’t be able to get their age pension until they’re 70, which will make Australians the oldest people to be able to access retirement benefits — if they get them.

"Entitlement to the age pension in Australia is asset based. Not everyone in retirement will receive it straight away, or at all," said Anthony Rodwell-Ball, CEO of NGS Super, an Australian Industry superfund for education and community-focused organisations.

Thanks in part to a healthcare system that’s considered to be one of the best in the world and a rapid decline in tobacco consumption, Aussies are also living longer, McCrindle Research Founder Mark McCrindle said. Men born between 2010 and 2012 can expect to live to 80 and women to 84, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Add it up, and more Aussies are working longer. That’s led to growth in new businesses started by older workers, a rash of training programs to keep older workers employable, and government incentives to hire older workers.

A passion for working

Of course, some people simply plan to work longer for other reasons. According to a 2010 Gallup survey, more than half of American workers aged 58 to 64 expect to keep working past 65, citing the need to save more money, job fulfilment and social interaction.

Howard Frederick, 65, and his wife, Hanna, 67, moved to Melbourne from New Zealand in 2010 to expand their business, Mámor Chocolates High Tea Szalón.

“We first moved to New Zealand from Germany in 2003 and launched Mámor, and then wanting to expand we decided to move to Melbourne in 2010,” recalled Howard Frederick, whose book, Entrepreneurship Theory Process Practice, is due out  in September and focuses on enterprise start-ups for seniors.

“Hanna found her passion late in life and I was lucky enough to find a teaching job immediately as an honorary professor of entrepreneurship education at Deakin University in Melbourne,” he said. “Sixty is the new 40!”

Steve Shepherd, an employment market analyst at human resources and recruitment specialist company Randstad, called the expectation for people to work longer in Australia a positive thing.

“This notion of having a hard stop in your career when you reach a certain age doesn’t make sense for everyone. Many people that have retired feel they have a lot to give in business,” said Melbourne-based Shepherd. “Businesses can benefit from hiring those with more experience — and at the same time create a more diverse work space.”

Changing perceptions

Improving skills and gaining new ones is necessary for some older Australians to keep a robust career into older age, according to experts.

“Maintaining appropriate skills is of critical importance to mature aged workers,” said Jon Lang, CEO of Upskilled, one of Australia’s leading registered training organisations. Training ensures employability, but also makes it easier for older workers to keep up with rapid advancements in their fields.

Industry sectors showing the highest proportion of enrolments for skills training for people age 45 and over include society and culture (19.3%), agriculture, environment and related studies (15.4%) and health (15.2%).

Of course, not every older worker needs training to succeed. In some cases, hiring is stymied by perception.

In 2013 the Australian Human Rights Commission found that one in 10 business respondents had an age above which they won’t recruit. “[Older workers] have experience, knowledge, can act as mentors to younger workers, and in relation to customer service roles, since Australia is ageing they will be able to connect to the bulk of the customer base,” he said. Forecasts show the number of people aged 65 to 84 in Australia will more than double by 2050.

In preparation for an older nation the Australian government has implemented a number of programs to assist both businesses and individuals with the shift, including an A$26m ($20.3m) Silver Service employment program that provides employers with financial incentives when hiring senior workers.

Kerrie Richards, 45, of Brisbane-based Merino Country, a manufacturer of Australian merino fabrics and garments, said she values older workers, citing the average age of her employees as 60. “My husband and I are in our forties and we are the youngsters,” she joked.

Merino Country specifically targets older employees for their skills and commitment (many older workers in the textiles trade have been in this industry since their teenage years), and Richards said, because they are loyal, on time and dependable.

“Although there are financial incentives available for employers like us from the government, we would employ mature age people any time,” she said.

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