The whole truth: How history can inform our understanding of ageing workforces
The ageing of Australian workforces is a universally accepted truth. In recent years the increasing rate of retirements has been a significant contributor to tight labour markets and skills shortages. The ageing workforce is generally linked to the ageing population, and explained in demographic terms - declining fertility/birth-rates and increasing longevity have changed the population profile, and the number of labour market entrants is only just keeping pace with labour market exits. Policy solutions are then developed from this limited demographic explanation. I argue that these demographic explanations are overly simplistic and ignore the historical context, particularly in the public sector environment. Since the 1970s, there have been extensive reforms as public sectors have embraced managerial and contractual philosophies, and radically altered both public management and public sector employment relations. These reforms have led to a double-whammy of reduced employment of younger employee cohorts and increased retention of older employee cohorts. This paper focuses on one part of the reform process related to merit and recruitment policies, in the period up until the late 1980s. I argue that the likely ageing of the workforce as a result of these policies could have been predicted beforehand, or at least identified as they occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, if public services had kept better workforce data and undertaken forecasting of workforce trends. Without understanding these historical explanations, policy solutions will be limited in scope, success and sustainability.
The Proceedings of the First Academic Association of History in Australia and New Zealand Business Schools (AAHANZBS
Human Resources Management