Australia is encouraging retired people to go back to work as falling migration and sliding population figures are creating a skilled crisis shortage.
The country is already seeking ways of encouraging more skilled workers from overseas but it is not enough, according to Treasures Wayne Swan who said it needs to mobilise its grey army as demand for skilled workers outstrips supply.
Swan has announced measures designed to stem the flow of ageing Australians into retirement, including an expert panel to advise on the economic potential of seniors.
It will join an existing consultative forum on mature-age employment, established to find means of boosting workplace participation rates among older Australians and which will produce a series of reports this year.
Enticements to continue working already in place include a new work bonus allowing over 65s to earn AUS$6500 a year before their pensions are affected. A new full time age discrimination commissioner will also start work in July to tackle prejudice against seniors in the workforce.
'In New Zealand labour force participation rates for people aged 55 to 64 are around 76% but in Australia that rate is only 63%. If we could deliver a similar rate, we'd see 330,000 more workers giving us the value of their experience and know how. Enhancing mature participation is simply one of the most important issues facing our economy today,' said Swan.
The extent of Australia's emerging skills shortage has been heightened by the need for skilled workers to work in flood and cyclone reconstruction. Although there has been an increase in the number of skilled workers moving from New Zealand, numbers from other parts of the world are falling.
Bureau of Statistics figures show that as the nation struggled to find enough people to fuel its resources boom, its annual population growth rate in the year to last September slowed to 1.6%, down from a peak of 2.2% in the year ending December 2008 and the lowest since September 2006.
Net overseas migration in the three months to the end of last September was more than 40% down on the previous year's corresponding period. Migration's share of the increase that took the nation's population to 22.4 million in the September year fell from 65% to 54%.
A recent population study by accountancy firm PKF said falling rates of population growth had come as policymakers turned away from the earlier 'big Australia' ideal. 'That changing political climate combined with external factors has seen a sharp swing in the rate of migration to Australia,' the report said.
Strengthened by an ageing population, present trends could signal the start of a decline in growth that could last a generation. PKF linked the decline to changes in immigration policy and tougher rules on foreign students.