If you're over 50 and out of work, research suggests it's a tough road ahead.

If you’re over 50 and out of work, the research suggests it’s a tough road ahead.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that many older workers shy away from a career change later in their working life.

A combination of age discrimination, lack of opportunities, and the need for a steady pay cheque all conspire to keep people in their current job, even if they don’t particularly like it.

However, a growing team of researchers and career coaches are seeking to change this and provide ideas on how to make the career switch after 50.

First, the bad news

If you lose your job after 50 you are in the hardest age bracket to find a new job, according to new research.

The University of South Australia’s Centre for Work Excellence found age discrimination was rife and a third of the people surveyed felt they had been treated unfairly because they were older.

The report’s author, Justine Irving, wrote in The Conversation that this could be a result of a few factors.

“Our interviewees believed that younger managers can feel intimidated by older workers,” she said.

“This may be based on concerns regarding an older employee’s ability to take instruction from somebody younger, learn new work methods and technologies or readily adopt change.”

The Human Rights Commission’s 2016 inquiry, Willing to Work, also found that the older you get the longer it takes to find a new job.


“In November 2015, the average duration of unemployment for mature-age people was 68 weeks, compared with 30 weeks for 15-24-year-olds and 49 weeks for 25-54-year-olds,” the report reads.

So who’s looking into this?

Quite a lot of research is now happening in this area.

In 2015 the Human Rights Commission undertook the first ever national survey into the “prevalence, nature and impact of age discrimination” in the workplace.

Its findings confirmed what many already thought: it’s tough for ageing workers.

The commission’s follow-up 2016 inquiry delved deeper into the case studies and surfaced with a number of recommendations for the Government.

These included: Appointing a new Cabinet Minister for Longevity; establishing a sub-committee of Cabinet to bring together Ministers from other portfolios; ans establishing an independent advisory board to provide expert input.

The University of South Australia’s latest data adds to this growing body of research and various groups have begun drilling deeper in just the last year alone.

Recent studies have now looked at gender disparities, discrimination in specific industries, and the health impacts of staying in the workforce longer.

So what’s the good news?

Mature-age workers can absolutely keep jobs and change careers, according to work coach Joanna Maxwell.


Ms Maxwell is a former lawyer who now coaches people on making the change later in life and has written a new book on the subject, Rethink Your Career.

“For me, it was a very long and messy process, extracting myself from that career and finding something that would be more satisfying for me,” she told News Breakfast.

“So I got really interested along the way in what makes us happy at work and how to help other people to do it in a slightly less messy way than I did.”

Ms Maxwell acknowledged the scary data out there, but said she had found what held most people back from seeking a career change was time spent building their current one.

“It’s what the economists call the sunk cost,” she said.

“If you spend a lot of time training for something and you have your heart set on it and you think that that is your fantasy career, it’s very difficult to accept that it is not.

“It gets so tied up with your identity that extracting yourself from that is difficult, particularly if you don’t have a really clear idea of where you want to go next.”

So how do you make the change?

The first step is to take stock and assess what your current skills and strengths are, according to Ms Maxwell.

“You may find that you’ve got things that are much more transportable than you think,” she said.

Then assess what extra training you may need to pursue that next job. After that, it’s good old-fashioned networking and meeting people in the field, which in the early stages may mean volunteering.


“I often recommend volunteering as a strategy so that you can pick up skills in a low pressure environment. Get the lay of the land, as it were,” Ms Maxwell said.

“One of the things that you need to be, particularly as you get into the 40s and 50s and beyond, is a bit flexible.

“You need to be prepared to try a few things. It’s not one size fits all.”

And the rewards are there for those who successfully take the plunge.

Some positive research in this area comes from Curtin University in Western Australia, which surveyed workers from every age group, state and territory to examine the key to job satisfaction.

They concluded that workers aged over 70 were three times more likely to be happy in their job than younger people.

“I get a lot of people at milestone birthdays and 49 and 50 and that kind of thing [seek advice],” Ms Maxwell said.

“And for many of them, the imagination is one thing, but once they actually do some serious practical planning … they find that a lot more is possible than they might have thought beforehand.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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