More mothers will need to go back to work to offset shortages created by an ageing workforce, CareerOne Editor Cara Jenkin reports.
MOTHERS are looming as the untapped resource of the labour market for employment providers who are bracing for an exodus of retiring workers and the creation of thousands of new jobs.
Low birth rates mean there are fewer young workers entering the workforce than the number of older workers who will retire in the next 10 years, meaning new staff need to be found in the current population to do the work.
The Training and Skills Commission estimates 84,000 workers will be needed to replace retiring staff in South Australia in the next four years, above and beyond the 78,000 workers required to fill the new jobs being created in this time.
Women who have left the labour force or scaled back their hours to raise children will be targeted to do the increasing amount of work that is becoming available.
Australian Institute for Social Research executive director Dr John Spoehr says it is still difficult for women to return to their career after they have had time off for children.
He says as well as finding new workers, the Federal and State governments want to increase the participation of staff in the workforce.
But he says there are some significant barriers to putting that into practice, particularly for parents who need to care for their children.
‘‘There’s this group of women who, with relatively modest support, are an untapped pool of labour for employers struggling to fill skill shortages,’’ he says.
‘‘Governments and labour market providers need to be mindful of supporting parents back into the workplace. Putting up programs designed to support re-engagement, confidence-building and upgrading of skills can be important for some women. For other women, it’s going to be time and money – that’s their barrier.’’
The Australian Work and Life Index 2010 states any effort for parttime women workers to move to fulltime work is unlikely to be successful unless policies and workplace arrangements change to reduce the burden on women.
It finds women will be more will- ing and able to return to the workforce or increase hours if they have a job that provides them with work/ life balance.
University of South Australia Hawke Research Institute research fellow Dr Natalie Skinner says fulltime female employees with children aged under 18 years especially struggle with work/life balance.
‘‘If we want women and mothers, in particular, to participate, for a start we need to have flexibility so they can work and manage all their family responsibilities and things like that,’’ she says.
But Dr Skinner says encouraging more flexible working arrangements for men also is needed to help lure mothers back to the workforce.
If more men can take on parenting duties, more women can feel supported to return to work, she says.
‘‘The other side of that story is there’s a lot of men out there and they are the ones working longer hours and they want to engage in parenting as well and they are just not able to do that,’’ she says.
Dr Spoehr says even in workplaces with flexible working arrangements, the take-up can be relatively low because managers are not supportive of that.
‘‘There has to be a revolution in this thinking to make sure that flexible working arrangements are in place and they are actually available to employers who need them.’’
He says employers will have to consider offering childcare arrangements, such as on-site facilities or subsidising the cost of outside facilities.
Mother-of-three Kelly Nielsen has returned to the workforce after 16 years at home raising her children.
‘‘My kids were all at school and didn’t need me as much any more and I was bored staying at home,’’ the 35-year-old says.
‘‘I was very apprehensive (about returning after being out of the workforce for so long).
‘‘I had no training and no experience or anything.’’
Ms Nielsen was employed in July last year as a care worker with ACH Group after spending two years looking for a part-time job.
She studied a certificate III in aged care and is now working towards certificate IV and may pursue further study to further her career in the health sector, which suffers from a skill shortage.
She says the work provides flexibility, which she believes makes it a good option for mothers returning to the workforce.
She can work shifts that allow her to take her children to and from school.
‘‘I’ve been loving it. I love talking to people, just the social side of it,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m thankful because there’s so much opportunity for TAFE courses and going on further. I never thought it would happen because I didn’t finish high school.
‘‘It’s been hard going back as a mature student but it’s worth it.’’
ACH Group chief executive Dr Mike Rungie says working mothers are well suited to aged-care jobs.
‘‘Care workers have the flexibility of being able to work short shifts and pick the times and days they want to work,’’ he says. ‘‘They can choose work hours to balance their family commitments with a set number of three to five-hour shifts over a week.’’
Aged-care worker Kelly Nielsen studies at home with her daughters Amber, 9, and Aliesha, 14.