I was listening to an interview with an Australian woman who has been fighting for equality for women for decades. It was a reminder that there is still a long way to go before people are judged on their talents, knowledge and ability rather on their gender. At about the same time the Prime Minister had called a meeting of a wide variety of groups to obtain their input into how to create a better, and more prosperous, Australia in future. I didn’t hear of any group representing older people being present and I suspect that there weren’t any. The trouble is that there aren’t any. The two major ones, both of which used to, and maybe still do, accept major grants to keep  afloat, don’t seem to believe in employing older people themselves so they certainly wouldn’t have an appropriate seat in the discussion.

Canada recently announced that it had more people over the age of 65 than under 15. I’m sure it will soon be joined by many other countries. We are so keen to promote ageism, just as for centuries we have promoted sexism, that we don’t look on older people as being a valid part of the economy. In both cases the country misses out on the talents, knowledge and skills, potential or otherwise, of a huge section of the population. I argue that in a highly competitive world we can’t afford to do this.

If we start fulltime work at 20 roughly, allowing for trades and university, and work until we are 65 then we have worked for 45 years of our lives. With the average life expectancy at roughly 85 (it soon will be) then we have another 20 years of life left if we retire at 65. For most of this time we will still be relatively fit. Do we really want to spend these years just filling time, finding things to do or would we prefer to be achieving, doing all the things we always wanted to do and achieve? One piece of research I came across found that people who leave work, retire, as soon as they can are people who feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled in their work. What a sad reflection on employers. One senior public servant told me that this happened in the public service. It certainly did with me but a found several other jobs which were more satisfying!

From the figures available we know that we are under-utilising our workforce based on gender and trying to fix it up but how long must we go on doing the same with problems based on age? I am not saying we should all continue with work, particularly fulltime work. What I am asking for is the opportunity for older people to use all our unused skills and ideas. It will happen in a more free thinking world in the future but what about missing out on them in the meantime. We live in a very competitive world. Can we afford to miss out on blatantly obvious solutions to many of our problems?