As mentioned yesterday, Australians are going to have to wait two years longer, until they are 67, to qualify for the aged pension. Meanwhile, in spite of evidence of increasing longevity and claims that 60 is the new 40, age discrimination continues in the workplace.

Yesterday recruitment expert Toby Marshall of Abacus again confirmed that even though the economic meltdown has been attributed to the reckless risk-taking of inexperienced young financiers, there is still no call for older, arguably wiser heads. He says most employers continue to refuse to even interview job applicants who are over 35, even though they have impressive qualifications.

“We can argue with the client as much as we like, but don’t forget, we are paid by the client,” Marshall noted. “I’ve been known to argue for quite a while, but there’s a limit.”

He mentioned that the excuse employers often offer is that an older worker “would not fit into our team” or “would not fit into our culture”. Marshall also agrees that unless attitudes change many older, well-qualified workers will continue to be forced, in between low paid casual work, to live on the dole — and for longer — until they are 67.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data suggests that even in recent boom periods it was older workers who had the most difficulty in securing work and particularly, a new permanent, full time job.

“Things won’t change significantly until we first admit we have a problem,” insists Toby Marshall. “I don’t think it’s a problem that can or should be solved by government. We already have laws against age discrimination. I think it’s a problem that should be solved by the Business Council of Australia, supported by the Federal Government with a small grant. I have a few ideas. I’ll put them on my blog.

Yet a recruitment consultant working with a welfare organisation condemned both the Federal and State governments for their failure to robustly address age discrimination in the workplace. The consultant, who asked not to be named, complained that the Rudd government had missed a timely opportunity to speak out against the problem when announcing the forthcoming increase in the pensionable age.

He also condemned the Rudd government for dispensing with what he described as one of the best initiatives of the Howard government: Job Network. That scheme, he said, had been so effective it has now been adopted by the British government. Meantime, he claimed, its Australian replacement, “the still little-known Rudd government’s National Building and Jobs Plan, had so far done little but create confusion and add to the general anxiety.” He complained that in recent weeks many specialists who have been thrown out of work by the cancellation of some of the Job Network contracts have had to concentrate on finding new jobs for themselves, rather than assist other job seekers.

He also reported that, in his experience, the human resource departments of both public and private sector employers tend to “try to protect their own backs by playing it safe.” They tend to recommend the appointment of applicants in the most acceptable 26 to 39 year-old age bracket. He explained that the under 26 year-olds are considered too inexperienced, while the over 40s are regarded as too set in their ways.

Yet he protests that, generally speaking, it is workers in their 40s, 50s and 60s who prove to be the most hard-working, punctual and appreciative of re-training. They are very appreciative of a job, he explains. They are anxious to keep it. They are the workers who are “least likely to bugger off to Europe — or the northern beaches — or to chuck a sickie on the day before or after a long weekend.”

He said he recently placed a widow in her fifties in a management position with a major corporation.

“I think her husband died of cancer,” he mentioned. “Anyway, here was a woman who had successfully raised a family and coped with any number of financial and other challenges.”

And things are changing he reported. There are Australian employers who appreciate the talents and resourcefulness of people like this.

“The thing to remember is to get the best possible advice about finding a job,” he says. “Most big firms now expect applicants to apply on line. That’s one way of weeding out older workers without computer skills.”

Yet those basic skills can be quite quickly acquired. He regrets that some of the very best and most compassionate advice was offered by welfare agencies that were part of the “soon-to-be defunct Job Network.” He worries that it is not yet clear if its replacement will prove to better serve the interests of older people trying to get back into or stay in the workforce.”

The latest (April, 2009) Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal that nearly 640,000 Australians are currently unemployed. New figures are scheduled to be released on June 11.