SMEs find that maturity pays

Small and medium business owners are embracing mature age workers as central to their growth and sustainability. In the process, they are brushing off stereotypes of technological dinosaurs who can’t cope with change. 

The lobby group for big business, the Australian Industry Group, in a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission, said engaging the mature age workforce would be central to future productivity gains, but that SMEs were a step ahead of their big business counterparts.

The trend is set to continue as the federal government’s bonus scheme takes hold. Under the scheme, from the start of this financial year employers who take on an over-50 worker will receive $1000.

Sydney-based Skyzer Technologies, which looks after production and repair of electronics like eftpos products, was about to undergo an internal project to integrate a number of disparate systems. It was a massive undertaking and the owners did not have experience in such organisational change, co-founder and technical director Troy Sneddon said.

To fill the gaps, the company employed Robin Adams, 61. “We heard so many horror stories of going down the path with youthful optimism,” Mr Sneddon, 37, said.

“With respect to Robin, we knew this guy had a wealth of international experience. [Employing him] gave us a chance to learn from the mistakes that he’d made over the years.”

Initially, Mr Adams was employed on a temporary basis, through specialist recruiter Performance Drivers, which specialises in placing those it calls “grey-haired gurus”. But he has since joined the company full-time.

“He’s very patient,” Mr Sneddon said. “When we like to set ourselves ambitious growth or sales goals, he almost reins those in. It’s good to have that maturity to bring us back in focus.”

Electronics firm Skyzer Technologies’ Troy Sneddon (left) employed Robin Adams to help spark internal change.
(Photo: Louise Kennerley Jessica Gardner)

The diversity of experience mature age workers brought was the biggest benefit for SMEs, Performance Drivers' managing director Richard Blow said. And a side-effect was the mentoring provided to younger colleagues.

Mr Blow said the proportion of SME clients looking for mature age workers had grown from 0 to 20 per cent of his business in four years.

He had increased his marketing activity towards the sector, but added: “A lot of SMEs have trouble hiring the right sort of people.”

Martin Nally’s company HR Anywhere is an outsourced human resources provider for companies. In some cases, Mr Nally’s company places contractors in businesses for short periods or on a part-time basis.

Of his 50 contractors, the average age is 45 years. He found mature age workers better suited to the work because young employees were more interested in a more stable career.

As well, the mature age consultants are more likely than their younger colleagues to just get started once they’ve been placed, even though it’s a new role and environment.

If there was role clarity – that is, they know what they’re expected to deliver – the mature workers needed less guidance, Mr Nally said. “We’re building upon their expertise.”

Geoff Charters manages a team of five at a medical group that supports about 20 doctors. His advice to SMEs is that mature age workers need convincing when it comes to change.

“You need to think very carefully what you want to achieve. Once they’re convinced, it can actually run a lot quicker and smoother.”

He said there were “thousands” of mature age job seekers and reckoned they were often passed over for roles by young recruiters and human resources staff. “There will be a natural bias with these people to hire around their own age.”

Heidi Holmes runs an online jobs board for candidates aged 45 years and older. “We have definitely seen an increase in number of SMEs advertising with us over the past six months,” Ms Holmes said.

The small business owners recruiting through her website were often looking for mature age workers because they already had employed similar aged staff or had experienced “issues with younger staff being unreliable or leaving within a short period of time.” Ms Holmes expected SMEs’ activity on her website to increase now the government job bonus was live.

“I don’t see this as a huge incentive for big business but we’ve already had quite a few small businesses approach us about accessing it.”

The Australian Financial Review

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