Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

What's in a Name? Categorising 'Disadvantaged Older Workers'

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

What's in a Name? Categorising 'Disadvantaged Older Workers'

Article excerpt


The institutionalised categorisation of adults who are over 55 years of age, unemployed and low-skilled as 'older' and 'disadvantaged' may affect their opportunities across a range of situations, but most particularly their employment prospects (Weller, 2007). It is claimed that categorisation can devalue an individual's human and social capital in the eyes of prospective employers (Jenkins, 2008; Zoellner, 2012) and in their own eyes (Desmette & Gaillard, 2008), which may lead to a lack of motivation to participate in further education and training (Billett & Smith, 2006; Paul & Moser, 2009). The negative consequences of such categorisation are set in the context of the current demographic trends of an ageing society, and the goals of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) governments to increase the labour force participation rates of older adults (van Nimwegen & van der Erf, 2010).

This paper reports on the findings of a doctoral thesis that explored the experiences of a small group of older, low-skilled adults, and the barriers to their participation in training and jobseeking activities. The research comprised a qualitative, phenomenological approach, and used a series of semi-structured interviews to gain an insight into a range of interrelated barriers. This paper illuminates in a personal way their reactions to the terms used to define their cohort. The findings did not identify a causal link between institutionalised categorisation and the participants' self-categorisation. However, the data suggest that those labels did not enhance their self-esteem nor increase their enthusiasm for participating in activities to increase their employability. These findings indicate, for policymakers, a disjunction between the possibly detrimental consequences of the institutionalised categorisation of this cohort and the need to increase their participation in the labour force.

Demographic challenges and barriers to participation for older adults

Current demographic trends, such as an ageing population and the retirement of skilled workers, are posing challenges to the economic stability of Australia and other OECD countries. In this section, these demographic challenges and their consequences are outlined.

Demographic challenges

Australia and other OECD member countries are experiencing considerable demographic challenges, characterised by two phenomena. Firstly, as longevity increases, the population is ageing, and there are declining birth rates (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010; Van Loo, 2011). Secondly, there is a decline in the labour force participation rate of older workers coupled with the retirement of skilled workers (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2009). This trend is claimed to be due to the rapid social, economic and cultural changes in the last century, as the developed world has shifted from an agricultural to industrial then post-industrial information-based economy (Taylor, Jorgensen, & Watson, 2009). So, while there are increasingly greater numbers of older people living and working longer in those countries, there are still not enough people in the upper age group participating in paid employment to offset the economic imbalance brought about by these demographic trends (Deloitte Access Economics, 2012). These issues are particularly relevant in the light of recent Australian Government suggestions to raise the age for pension entitlements (Deloitte Access Economics, 2012; The Treasury, 2014).

Economic and social impacts

It is predicted that a continuation of the current demographic trends outlined above represents a threat to living standards in OECD countries (McLachlan, Gilfillan, & Gordon, 2013; Warren & Oguzoglu, 2010), and, in Australia, would have a negative effect on the national labour market (Productivity Commission, 2013). In terms of economic impacts, if these trends continue, the percentage of the population drawing on the social wage would increase, while those contributing to the nation's finances would decrease (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010), placing substantial pressures on public finances (OECD, 2006) due to a growing discrepancy between these two factors. …

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