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Under-used 55+ can bridge skills gaps

Wise Ones, the online service helping people over the age of 55 find employment, is calling on all employers to look more seriously at taking on older workers.

This comes as an increasing contradiction appears in New Zealand employment whereby the number of over 55s is growing while at the same time industries and businesses experience damaging skills shortages.

The potential is for this to intensify as the debate over reducing immigration numbers, and the impact on business, becomes more vocal in the lead up to the general election.

screen-shot-2017-08-18-at-3-47-25-pmKate Ross, founder of Wise Ones, says despite the growing numbers of over-55s they often struggle when trying to find work.

“People in this age bracket are being over-looked and there’s an expanding part of our population that’s over-55 and under used.

“We hear stories all the time of people who are despondent and losing hope they will ever get another job, even though they have great CVs, are very skilled and have a fantastic work ethic.

“And while this happens, there is a question about lack of skills in the country if the immigration tap is turned down.

“We need to ask if employers have really considered every option including looking at people over-55 as a solution to the skills shortage?”

Around 80,000 Kiwis have been identified as potential job seekers, and 100,000 are under-employed or wanting to work more (1).

Estimates show that overall 11.8% of the working population is under-utilised, and many of these are over the age of 55.  These figures contradict and questions the low unemployment figure of 4.8% to the June quarter.

Typically it also takes longer for over-50s to find work with them having about a 30% lower chance of employment in the first year of looking, and 11% after five years (2).

Under-utilisation of older workers is set to grow with Statistics New Zealand expecting the 55 year old and over age bracket to grow from 1.1 million people in 2011, to 1.7 million in 2036, and 2.2 million in 2061, 37% of the population (3).

Reflecting this, the numbers of people 55 and older in the labour force is expected to increase from 485,600 people in 2011 to 823,400 in 2036 (3), a 70% rise.


“There are many employers who are already embracing this demographic change to our workforce, and are employing a far wider range of ages than they used to, but we need to do more as a country to use all the talent we have,” Kate Ross continues.

“But research from the Commission for Financial Capability shows 83% of companies have no policies or strategies in place for workers aged over 50, so this is a real issue that needs to be addressed by business leaders and groups that support all commercial organisations – we can’t ignore demographic change,” she says.

Wise Ones launched in February 2017 to address the social and economic issue of people needing or wanting to work for longer to fund longer retirements as our population ages.

Kate Ross believes there is an important story to tell in New Zealand about the over 55s being under-used. “We hear stories all the time about how frustrating it is for people in this age bracket to find work but at the same time almost half of businesses say they face a shortage of highly experienced and skilled workers (5),” she says.  “We are all going to get there at some point so it’s time for employers to look more at all ages and all options to find the best people.”

“Earning and being productive boosts confidence and self-esteem for people, and the loyalty, resilience and great work ethic should be attractive to any business – we have a booming economy but lots of older people are not able to find a job.”

Wise Ones is taking a social enterprise approach to its business to support the belief that everyone no matter what their age has the ability to be productive, to support themselves, their families and communities, and the economy as a whole.

The concept was developed by a team of experts who have decades of experience in the recruitment business across New Zealand and Australia.



  1. Newshub, reported in, 4.8.17
  2. Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust, reported in, 29.5.17
  3. “Workers aged 55+ keen to stay working full time” – Statistics New Zealand (2013) – accessed – 14.2.17
  4. Human Rights Commission’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Jackie Blue, reported in “Another brick in the wall”, Canvas Magazine, NZ Herald, 19th November 2016
  5. Managing an ageing workforce: New Zealand Work Research Institute – AUT – no date – assumed 2014.
  6. Businesses ignore the ageing workforce – Commission for Financial Capability, accessed – – 5.8.17
  7. Inside story: Uphill Battle for older workers – – accessed 5.8.17