Jennifer Westacott interview with Ben Fordham, Ben Fordham Live, 2GB

Event          Jennifer Westacott interview with Ben Fordham, Ben Fordham Live, 2GB

Speaker       Jennifer Westacott, Ben Fordham

Date            27 April 2020

Topics         COVID-19 economic modelling, skills

E&OE

Ben Fordham, host Ben Fordham Live 2GB: Older workers are most likely to remain unemployed long after coronavirus is gone. Workers over the age of 50 made up almost 40 per cent of those who would have lost their jobs without the government's JobKeeper program. Now once that payment expires, thousands of older workers could again be at risk of retrenchment. Jennifer Westacott is the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. Jennifer, good afternoon.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Hi Ben. 

Ben: This is the reality for a lot of older workers.

Jennifer: It certainly is. Well, the first thing, of course, is how important the government assistance has been to those workers who are at risk. But we've really got to pull out all stops to make sure that what happened in the last recession, which of course many people would remember because it was in the 1990s, is that group of people stayed unemployment. And we've got to make sure that doesn't happen again, and we've got to make sure they've got the skills and the opportunity so they can go back to work.

Ben: And the clock is ticking because JobKeeper lasts about six months.

Jennifer: That's correct, and we've got to do a couple of things I think Ben. One is on the skills front. It just takes too long for people, as you know, to get reskilled. Like you can't go back and do a three-year TAFE course or a three-year degree. We've got to find a way of getting people to do modules of training so they can skill up and get new jobs or different jobs or get back into their job. And of course, the most important thing is that when we've got the health stuff right, opening up the economy so we can get people back to work quickly. Which is why I'm a big fan of the app and really encouraging everyone to get the app. Because the sooner we're all safer, the sooner we can open up the economy, the sooner people can get back to work.

Ben: And the challenge for people over 50 to get back into the workforce was there before COVID-19. There were already more than 180,000 older workers on Newstart before the pandemic. People over 55 make up the largest group of people on Newstart which is now known as JobSeeker.

Jennifer: Yeah, that's right. This group has always been at risk and they're particularly at risk where they're in an industry, say, which is getting technology transformation and they haven't been able to keep their skills up. So, we've got to do a couple of things. We've got to make sure that our skills system, that I talked about, gets fixed and gets tailored to their needs so they can quickly do those short courses, modules, whatever you want to call them, so they can get back into work. We've also got to make sure that employers, and I'll be certainly with members of the Business Council to say, 'hey listen, experience matters, maturity matters, why don't give these guys a bit of a leg up, give them a job opportunity.' And we've got to make sure that they just don't slip through the net.

Ben: I know it's a difficult balance but are you of the mind at the moment where you're thinking okay it's time to start getting back businesses back up off the ground and running again, bit by bit, slowly and cautiously'? Or are you of the thinking where you think 'hang on a moment, no we just need to sit back and keep the hibernation period going longer'?

Jennifer: Oh, look I think we have to slowly but carefully get things up and running again. And look I think the National Cabinet is tackling that. We've got to do that in a way that keeps people healthy and safe. And the combination of the app, the standards that lots of industries are setting and leading the world in safe work practices, as well as mass testing, should allow the National Cabinet to start thinking about easing those restrictions. We can't sacrifice the health but clearly the sooner we can open up the economy, the sooner people can back to work, and the sooner we minimise the risk to this group of people in Australia who are at high risk of becoming permanently unemployed.

Ben: Jennifer thanks so much for jumping on the line. We appreciate it. 

Jennifer: You're welcome, thanks.

Ben: Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia.