As with other industrialized nations Australia's population is aging and older workers are encouraged to work for longer. At the same time, Australia's university sector, which is aging, is being reconfigured through changes that potentially marginalize its older workers as higher education institutions try to become more competitive in a global market. In this context, youthfulness appears to embody competitiveness and academic institutions are increasingly aspiring to a young workforce profile. This qualitative article builds on previous research to explore to what extent ageist assumptions shape attitudes to older workers and human resource management (HRM) practices within Australian universities even when HRM practitioners are well versed in antidiscrimination legislation that (unlike the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in the United States) applies to workers of all ages. Semistructured interviews conducted with 22 HRM practitioners in Australian universities reveal that university HRM practices generally overlook the value of retaining an older workforce by conflating "potential" with "youthfulness," assuming that staff potential and performance share a negative correlation with age. While mostly lower-ranked institutions have attempted to retain older academics to maintain an adequate labor supply, this study finds that university policies targeting the ongoing utilization of older workers generally are underdeveloped. Consequently, the availability of late career employment arrangements is dependent upon institutions' strategic goals, with favorable ad hoc solutions offered to academics with outstanding performance records, while a rhetoric of performance decline threatens to marginalize older academic researchers and teachers more generally.
It would seem logical that ageing population would result in ageing work-forces. After a period when the attention of researchers was focused on the trend towards a shortening of working life (for example Kohli et al., 1991), there has been increasing attention in policy circles on examing pathways to work and on prolonging working lives among older workers. Recently, national government policymakers have been keen to promote company best practice examples but this ignores whether some industry sectors are more inclined to countenance older workforces than other. It is this issue that concerns this chapter. It begins by briefly summarizing public policy efforts in response to economic challenges resulting from population ageing, before going on to discuss the repsonse of employers, particularly as they wrestle with an increasingly complex and dynamic operating environment. It concludes by asking questions about the future place of older workers in the labour markets of the industrialized nations, and how they experience efforts to make them work longer.