NZ government needs to get ahead of ageing curve says EMA

High speed broadband cabling being installed by Chorus workers in Brooklyn, Wellington by older workers.Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Like many countries around the world New Zealand's workforce is ageing and the Employers and Manufacturers' Association is calling on the government to get ahead of the curve.

"We are facing a perfect storm. The combination of an ageing population, a low birth rate, a labour shortage, a skills deficit and the changing nature of work means we need to tackle this issue now," the industry lobby said in a white paper on 'Unlocking the potential of our ageing workforce'. Unlike many global risks, the ageing population can be predicted with reasonable confidence. "As a result, we have the potential to manage the risks and take advantages of the opportunities ageing presents now," it said.

Around 15 percent of the population is over 65 and by 2038 that number will have jumped to 21 percent and already around one-third of New Zealand workers are estimated to be over the age of 55, it says, citing data from Statistics New Zealand.

Against that backdrop, it is calling for a national strategy on the ageing workforce, a government-led task force or advisory board and the development of an ageing workforce tool-kit for both employers and workers.

"Currently, the government has many different agencies working on ageing workforce or ageing population, but these activities are often disjointed and at odds with each other," it said. There is no "inter-agency strategy for them to work with" and no single minister or ministry responsible for this significant economic and social dynamic.

"Employers know there's an issue but they are not planning for it and are uncertain how to manage it. They are seeking tools to help them manage this raft of challenges," it said. According to the EMA, 83 percent of employers have no plans to address the challenge the demographic change the ageing population will present, including the public sector.

Among other things, it also said there are significant economic gains to be made from unlocking the potential of an ageing workforce, citing an Australian study that stated if participation lifted by 3 percent for workers aged 55 and older the gross domestic product would lift by around 1.6 percent of national income. "For New Zealand, we have a similar potential," the EMA said.

Separately, Seniors Minister Tracey Martin released a discussion document and opened consultation on a new positive ageing strategy.

“We need a strategy to ensure that we are in a good position to deal with these demographic shifts and the wider changes that are happening in society, and that are going to happen. Along with having a positive environment for the individual people represented in these figures, our ageing population has implications for employment and housing, health and aged care, social services and our economy," she said.

The consultation is open from June 29 to Aug. 24. Following the consultation officials will draft the new strategy and an action plan. A second round of consultation on the proposed strategy will take place in early 2019.