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Ignore older workers at your peril

Drake International co-founder Bill Pollock changed the post-WWII work landscape by bringing housewives and mothers back into the workforce at a time when married women going back to work was seen as scandalous. Now he believes the workplace needs to undergo another attitude adjustment, this time about older workers.

When recruitment firm Drake International was just starting out in the 1950s, Pollock and his business partner Jim Shore made a calculated guess that husbands might reason a little ‘hobby’ to earn some ‘pin money wouldn’t hurt. They were right.

“That was sort of our mission – to get them back into the workforce so we could have temporary workers we could contract out,” says Pollock. “As time went on, we very quickly started to promote women in business and management in our company and we had a preponderance of females running our business when other companies didn’t experience that.

“In the late 1950s, we were the only company in the business world at that time to hire female sales reps and put them out to sell to our clients and they were extremely successful.”

Pollock believes Australian workplaces will suffer if they don’t change their current attitudes towards workers over 50.

From 1982 to 1992, 32% of the working population was aged over 45. From 1992 to 2002, that proportion jumped to 72%. In the last five years, that figure has jumped to nearly 85%. Yet, somehow, some business owners still overlook older workers in favor of younger staff.

“If you’re looking for talent don’t go looking necessarily for the youngsters who still have a lot of learning to do but take a look at those older workers who’ve got all that experience and that knowledge because that’s an untapped market out there,” Pollock says. “Those people in the over-50 age group are some of the best people you could possibly look for.”

From 2010, Drake will be rolling out a national program to make it easier for older workers to find employment.

“It comes back to management paying attention to everybody in the company and making certain they’re continuing to grow,” he says.

To do this, Pollock suggests businesses look at their staff as their number one resource – more important than the product they’re selling – and then maximize the returns.

“I think it’s very important to do psychological assessments on people to understand their behaviors, their motivations, and by doing that you can communicate with those individuals on their level much more effectively,” he explains. “You can inspire them simply by being in tune with what their aspirations and goals are. Plus, doing team assessments so they can understand each other can lead to a much more effective and productive team.”

The next step is investing time and money into staff. While some bosses are reluctant to sink money into the staff for fear they will leave and take their skills with them, Pollock says doing nothing will make that process more of a reality.

“You can cut back on headcount if you don’t need headcount but I don’t think I’d ever cut back on investment in the growth and development of employees,” he says.

“In this day and age employees are the most important asset a company has and so the more investment you put into employees, the more you’re going to have a successful company. It isn’t really an investment because it all pays off in such a short period of time.

“So, it’s not a case of pouring money into something and then looking for a return two or three years down the line, you get your return within 12 months. It’s doing the right thing and making certain you’re constantly focusing on your human capital and improving that performance and productivity.”

Of course, he would say that. At 80 years old, Pollock still works seven days a week and finds time to go dancing afterward. Read our full profile of Bill Pollock.

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