Age-related bias and unlawful discriminatory practices still exist, with up to 30% of employers reporting they are reluctant to hire mature-aged workers (Australian Human Resources Institute study 2015). COTA Victoria is pleased to have had the opportunity to raise this issue in an interview with Matt Preston on ABC radio. Wennie van Riet, Team Leader with our Reach, Train, Employ project and Sharyn Ciberlin, a project participant, explained how COTA Victoria’s the project is supporting jobseekers 50+ into employment.
Sharyn Ciberlin joined Reach, Train, Employ in March 2020. Sharyn, 53, lives in Melton and has been in and out of work since 2018.
Sharyn’s background is in the food industry. For seven years, she worked as a chef in the military, and for ten years, she worked as a Food Tech Assistant at a school. Sharyn went on long service leave and had an extended break, but volunteered her time with Melton Council, transporting older people to their appointments. This experience – together with her work as an attendant carer for someone she knew – sparked her interest in health care. She began actively looking for work in 2019 when she became interested in working as a Personal Care Assistant.
What has been your experience in finding work as a person over 50? Has it become more difficult to find suitable employment the older you have become?
I think it’s harder; there is a lot more competition. I got a lot of generic “thanks but no thanks” automatic responses, so I know I wasn’t even considered. I think we need support to direct our resume to be more job-specific. Because there are a huge number of applications, they must have algorithms to use to screen applicants.
I don’t put my age on my applications, but I think they may guess my age because I have too much information in my resume that gives the indication of age.
What do you see are the barriers that people over 50 face when they are looking for work?
Lack of confidence. When I heard about the Reach, Train, Employ course I thought, “this is exactly what I need to be job-ready.” Certificates are important but mature aged people need support around the course to give them the confidence to be job-ready.
A lack of computer knowledge is also a barrier. People of my age may need support in this area, to learn how to navigate around a computer. COVID has added a layer to this problem – it’s highlighting how much support is needed as everything is now online.
There is a disconnection between human contact and the computerised world we live in. The process of looking for jobs is no longer person-centred. Before, we went to CES [Commonwealth Employment Service] and took a job card off the board and were given face-to-face guidance about how to apply for this particular job. This human contact has stopped. Virtual interviews may work but you have to get the interview first.
Why did you decide to change your career to work in the disability and aged care sectors?
Two reasons. Firstly: my age. I knew I had compassion and life experience to give to the elderly and people with disability. I want to see people in facilities have their personal care needs met and to see improvements in the care they receive so they can have the best for their later years. Person-centred care is very important to me. I have enjoyed seeing my friend, who had a stroke, develop and improve with my assistance.
Secondly, I know there is a huge need: people are living for longer. There is a good fit between my skills and the need in our community.
What does being able to work mean for you?
Working means security, and happiness, because I know I can pay the bills. Extra money also means leisure and enjoyment to add to my social life; this creates happiness and a healthier life. New work friends and a new social network is important to me to enjoy my work environment. I have a very high work ethic; I enjoy doing 100% knowing I’ve done my best and have pleased the other person. If there’s a problem I love to solve it. I’m definitely a problem-solver and I’m very creative as well. Work is my outlet for my creativity. I’m a can-do person.
Looking back at your younger self, comparing her with who you are now, what new or different strengths do you have that you can bring to your work?
I have a passion for my work. I take a lot of ownership and responsibility for my work.
My people skills are better. I know the importance of having the people skills. I was naïve and shy back then. Now I have a greater knowledge of what is going on in the world. I have learned from other people’s lives and what is going on around me. Before, I wasn’t so interested in the world and world events; now I can confidently converse, listen and learn from anyone, from all different cultures.
What advice would you give to others who are over 50 and find themselves unemployed?
We have transferable life skills; we are valuable. Be confident and listen. Keep informed; know where to go for information. Go to places like your local council for information. Go to the library and source information for support. Keep in touch with what is going on. Know you are of value.
How did you find out about the Reach, Train, Employ project?
Really by chance; it was word-of-mouth. I was helping my friend who had a stroke and his sister came across it on the COTA Victoria website and said I should apply.
What do you hope to get out of the project?
I have enjoyed making new friendships; I hope these will continue. I hope to gain employment in either home care or in a residential facility. I really want to gain experience and get the certificate. I may do further education, definitely the Cert IV. I may even go further – I love learning.
I understand that you recently had an interview with Matt Preston from ABC radio, where you talked about your experience with the Reach Train Employ project. What was that like?
I was a little nervous. I said a lot of “ums”, but it was good. I spoke from the heart; I enjoyed it and spoke confidently. I wanted to acknowledge the support and how important it is for the success we will have; I hope I got that message across.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to say that Reach, Train, Employ is a great initiative, the partnership of COTA Victoria, RMIT University and Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand works very well. Putting together the needs of over 50s, who are looking for work, with the community need for aged care and disability support – this really addresses it. This should be the main goal of education: matching a need with a skill.
The Reach, Train, Employ project is supported by the Try, Test and Learn Fund, an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Social Services.