The changing face of New Zealand's workforce: More women and over-65s

Diversity Works New Zealand chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie says paid parental leave has boosted the participation ...
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Diversity Works New Zealand chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie says paid parental leave has boosted the participation of women in the labour force.

The face of New Zealand's labour force has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, with significantly more women and fewer teens in work.

The findings come from Statistics New Zealand's Household Labour Force Survey, which has been collecting records since 1986.

When the survey began, just 54.7 per cent of working-age women either had a job, or were looking for one.

By 2016, that proportion had increased to 64 per cent.

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Men's participation went backwards, with the proportion down from 80.1 per cent to 74.4 per cent.

Diversity Works New Zealand chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie said the introduction of paid parental leave had made a big difference, and many dads were now primary caregivers.

But the biggest driver was a skills shortage, which had pulled more people into the workforce in general.

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Cassidy-Mackenzie said the shortage would get worse over time, and organisations needed to be flexible and inclusive to attract staff.

That meant understanding people's responsibilities outside the workplace, as well as being welcoming of diversity in culture, religion, sexual orientation, and ability.

"A lot of organisationss have been doing quite a bit of work in trying to retain aging workers," Cassidy-Mackenzie said.

They're bringing people back into 'encore' careers, into job-sharing and part-time roles."

In 1986, the most common reason for not being in the labour force other than retirement was being at home looking after children, at 21.6 per cent.

By this year that figure had fallen to 13.9 per cent, with studying now a more common reason than childcare.

Statistics NZ labour and income statistics manager Mark Gordon said economic events and policy shifts contributed to the changes.

"The lower prevalence of people staying home to look after children shows how different labour market opportunities are now for parents."

There had also been a big change in age demographics over the three decades.

The proportion of 15- to 19-year olds in the labour force plummeted from 70.9 per cent to 48.7 per cent.

"Back in 1986, young people were more likely to be joining the labour force at an earlier stage in life, and there was less participation in school and post-school study," Gordon said.

At the same time, the proportion of people aged over 65 and still working had more than doubled to 22 per cent.

ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley​ said the increase in the retirement age from 60 to 65 would have contributed.

As New Zealand became more prosperous, life expectancy had increased and people were healthier and more are able to work when they reached retirement age.

The economy had also shifted from a manufacturing or labour dominated economy to more of a services based economy, which meant people were physically capable for working longer.

Tuffley said some people were choosing to work longer for mental stimulus and fulfillment.

"Just because you turn 65 doesn't mean you need to stop working."

Over time there would be a greater share of people above 65 working, especially with ongoing improvements in healthcare, he said.

 - Stuff

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