At the age of 55, Julie Misson is preparing to launch a new business in the new year developing healthcare apps.
As a former nurse, she has created a range of new apps including one that provides information on maternity services for new mothers and another that provides advice to carers of people dying at home. She has also written a book for healthcare professionals on how to design apps to enhance patient care.
“I’ve been working in IT in one form or another since 1990,” she says.
“A lot of people my age use a lot of technology, smartphones, Facebook, Instagram and Netflix.”
New research has found that one in two Australians over 50 would change their career tomorrow given the opportunity. The findings challenge assumptions they are not adaptable or savvy with new technology.
The survey of 5973 Australians aged 18 and over, conducted by Lonergan Research on behalf of insurance company Apia, found 77 per cent of people over 50 believe their creativity levels increase or stay the same with age.
The study found more than half (56 per cent) of people over 50 believe they can keep up with the latest trends in technology until at least the age of 80, whereas 18-24-year-olds believe people become “too old” to do so at age 60.
Linda Butler, 72, a former social security fraud officer , says she and friends in their 80s “do everything online” including banking, shopping and keeping in touch with family.
“When we get up in the morning, the first thing we do is have a cup of tea and put on our computers,” she said.
“I want to keep up with my grandson who is 12 years old and his life is new technology.
“I use it a lot because I have family overseas and emailing and downloading photos is particularly important.”
Dr Catherine Rickwood, who specialises in researching people who are 50-plus, said a third of Australia’s population were over 50 and 80 per cent were Baby Boomers.
“If you just focus on the Baby Boomers, I think it is fair to say they are technology literate and are willing to learn and adjust. And they are willing to work,” Dr Rickwood said.
“But by and large, workplaces look to the over-50s to be moving out of the workplace.”
Dr Rickwood, who is founder and chief executive of Three Sisters Group, said there were big opportunities for intergenerational job-sharing arrangements between people over 50 and younger workers starting families.
Without human resources policies targeting the retention and recruitment of people over 50, the problem of ageism was unlikely to be properly addressed.
There are policies on inclusiveness of people with disabilities and on gender equity, but there is virtually nothing to address inclusiveness of people over 50.
Leanne Cutcher, of the University of Sydney School of Business, said despite being more than capable, over-50s faced age discrimination and found it harder to get new jobs.
She said there was a “persistent stereotype that older workers take longer to learn new skills and are less savvy with technology”.
“It is easy to imagine why many 50-plus-year-olds may want to change their jobs – a career equivalent of a tree or sea change – but it is unlikely to happen because of persistent age discrimination and reluctance on the part of employers to invest in retraining someone who has a limited number of years left in the labour market.”
A national inquiry by the Australian Human Rights Commission this year identified systemic age and disability workforce discrimination. Roughly a quarter of the population are 55 and over but they make up only 16 per cent of the total workforce.
Research from the Brotherhood of St Laurence has found that 40 per cent of recipients of employment services last year were mature-age Australians who had spent more than a year on income support.
Ninety-three-year-old Alf Catalano is among people over 50 who live to work.
By Anna Patty