Planning for an Ageing Australian Workforce

Patricia Docherty, Senior Planning Consultant- NSW In 2012, there was roughly, one centenarian for every 100 babies. By 2060, it is estimated that there will be 25 such centenarians - Australian Productivity Commission, 2013 

Planning policy, must stop restrictive allocations of traditional ‘employment lands’ and address how we live and access employment into older age, whether it be flexible, part time or work from home as we ‘age in place’.

The Australian Productivity Commission report- An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future, released on Friday 22 November 2013 indicates “that Australia is facing a major slowdown in its growth in national income per capita and productivity outlook at the same time that ageing will start to make major demands on the budgets of all Australian governments”.

The report identifies three key policy areas that may require consideration:

  • design of the age pension and the broader retirement system discourages an active economic role by older people, notwithstanding their far longer life expectancy;
  • older people are asset rich, but income poor. Innovative ways of accessing just a small share of people's housing equity could leave them with assets that still grow; and
  • large potential gains in efficiency in the health care sector.

Based on mortality rates published by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, a boy born between 2009 and 2011 can expect to live to the age of 79.7 years and a girl would be expected to live to 84.2 years.  As the Australian population ages the work participation age will continue to extend well beyond 65 years.

The Productivity Commission reports that the population aged 75 or more years is projected to rise by 4 million from 2012 to 2060.  “Australia's population will continue to grow strongly, and is expected to lie between 34 and 42 million people by 2060, with the most likely outcome around 38 million. Sydney and Melbourne are projected to each have a population over 7 million”.

Australia’s life expectancy is amongst the highest in the world; surpassed only by Iceland, Japan and Hong Kong, according to the United Nations. Australia is entering an era of sustained pressure on how and where we will live and work.

Meanwhile, postponement in full retirement age and extended transitions from economic participation will impact on the size and mobility of the work force.  Not only does the nation need to re-think housing as we age in place, but significantly how we access employment, whether it be flexible part time or working from home.

Work from home is a vital and so far overlooked facet of the Australian economy.  It is disregarded in current Planning Policy perpetuated by traditional views of what constitutes ‘employment lands’.

As the population continues to grow and age, it is imperative that the ‘silver dollar’ revenue is encouraged to go some way towards meeting our 80 years plus health care needs.  Planning Policy on ‘ageing in place’ often places such emphasis on provision of healthcare, local shops and aged care services.  This lacks consideration of how we will adapt to extend economic activity and workplace participation and where we will live and work.

Further, growing opportunities to work from home will be enabled by residential access to high speed internet. Meanwhile, land use planning policy continues to restrict redevelopment of redundant ‘employment land’ for more suitable use instead of recognising that more and more people are working from home, particularly skilled ‘semi-retired’, who work beyond pension age.

A number of trends already indicate that the 60 and over age group leads the way in ‘work from home’ as a proportion of all employed people.  The ABS ‘Locations of Work’ (2008) Survey, identified “the proportion of older people who worked at home was greater than the proportion of all employed people“. 

Surprisingly, this indicates the over 60 age group is twice as likely to work from home as those aged 35-44. This is the most recent survey on locations of work published by the ABS.


Of all people who worked only or mainly at home Of all employed people Ratio 
4% were aged 15-24 years, 17% were aged 15 -24 years 0.24:1 
29% were aged 35-44 years, and 23% were aged 35-44 years, 1.26:1 
17% were aged 60 years and over 8% were aged 60 years and over 2.13:1 

Source: ABS ‘Locations of Work’ (2008) Survey/ MacroPlan Dimasi

Access to broadband in the home has increased three-fold over the past 5 years and ‘working from home’, through use of improvements in technology infrastructure is set to increase exponentially.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the number of Australians accessing the internet at home steadily increased since 1998, rising from 13% of adults to 43% in 2002.  In 2002, access to the internet and use of computers was highest in younger age groups, decreasing with age, and higher in metropolitan areas.  In 2005-06, the number of households with broadband Internet connection almost doubled to 2.3 million households.  In 2010-11, 6.2 million households had broadband internet access.

Nearly three-quarters of Australian households now have broadband.  This is an increase of over one million households since 2008-09.

Based on current trends, MacroPlan Dimasi forecast this will result in more people working from home, in professional and managerial type occupations, either as sole traders or on more flexible contractual arrangements with employers in Central Business Districts in and around Capital Cities.

MacroPlan Dimasi expects that an estimated 15% of jobs in Australia will be at no fixed address by the year 2036.  This estimate incorporates a 10% ‘work from home’ component and a 5% ‘no fixed address’ component as a sub-set of future jobs.  We are confident the potential of technology-assisted employment choices is not yet fully tapped.

More broadly, there are numerous references that can be used as a proxy for estimating work from home forecasts. The ABS ‘Residential & Workplace Mobility (2009) survey’ attributes 7.8% for NSW currently (work from home and no fixed workplace).

The ‘Impacts of Teleworking under the NBN (2010)’ report by Access Economics suggests that improved technologies to be provided under the NBN rollout may act as a further catalyst for teleworking.   The former ALP Government’s Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy has set a target of 12% by 2020.

The Coalition’s current broadband policy is under review, however is still expected to deliver fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) for large parts of the network, rather than the fibre-to-the- premises (FTTP).  The market is likely to apply ongoing pressure for Tony Abbot and Malcolm Turnbull to go the extra mile and rethink using old copper connections from the cabinet to premises rather than replacing the entire copper wire with fibre optic cable.

Mounting evidence of the economic benefits of high speed NBN infrastructure to the premises that facilitates working from home, particularly for an ageing workforce, is a fraught scenario for the Coalition government.

The current trends and future demand for high speed broadband technology is evidently set to increase.  Recent ABS Census data identifies the percentage of people working from home, has increased, particularly in inner city suburbs, For instance, recent data for the inner Sydney Council area of Leichhardt, indicates that the number of people working from home has increased to 6% between 2006 and 2011; 2% above the Greater Sydney average.

…  [For men] the most common occupation groups of their job at home were 'Managers' (42%), followed by 'Professionals' (32%) and 'Technicians and trades workers' (9%). By comparison, the most common occupation groups for women, in their job at home, were 'Clerical and administrative workers' (37%), followed by 'Professionals' (23%) and 'Managers' (21%).”

These trends suggest that an ageing population will result in higher than average work from home forecasts, particularly in suburbs with larger proportions of the workforce in professional occupations.  Land use planning policy which is fixated on the retention of ‘employment land’ in relation to economic activity and employment participation is increasingly becoming less relevant.

It is evident that degenerating industrial brownfield sites close to CBD’s present major residential development opportunities and the potential to be reinvented from industrial origins; creating new places such as Green Square Village, south of Sydney CBD.

Planning policy must stop looking to delineated and strict allocations of traditional ‘employment lands’ and become flexible enough to respond to the needs of a growing and aging population and address how and where we will live and work, now and in the future.

Contact Patricia Docherty, Senior Planning Consultant  today to discuss your planning requirements.