Am I too old for a job in the mining industry?

Black and white photograph of a miner

No one likes to be left on the "scrap heap". Are you too old for a job in the mining industry?

It can be a sensitive subject: No one likes to think they’re “too old” to do a job.

For those who have three or four decades of experience under their belt and a good few years left before retirement, to be “left on the scrap heap” feels insulting and unfair. Especially when “old” is considered 50 years and above — which is really only half to two-thirds of the way through someone’s professional life.

But if the work a potential employer is offering is physically demanding, as is often the case in an industry like mining, are there jobs that people can be simply “too old” to do?

Here’s what the law says on age discrimination

First things first, Australian law takes a very dim view of discrimination of all kinds, including age. Your rights are protected in law.

The Human Rights Commission says age discrimination “is when someone is treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation, because of their age.”

“The Age Discrimination Act makes it against the law to treat you unfairly because of your age in different areas of public life, such as work, education and buying goods and services.”

The Act protects you in situations where, because of your age, you have been:

  • refused employment
  • dismissed
  • denied a promotion, transfer or other employment-related benefits
  • given less favourable terms or conditions of employment
  • denied equal access to training opportunities
  • selected for redundancy
  • harassed

However, it is not against the law to refuse someone a job if, because of their age, they can’t perform the “inherent requirements” of the position. In other words, you must be able to carry out the essential duties of the job. So, if you’ve lost your driver’s licence, for example, then you can’t drive the truck and you’re not suitable for that job.

You can read more about it here.

Age discrimination for jobseekers in mining

So, would a mining company really give a “senior” (remember, that’s apparently over 50 these days) a job?

Gail Rogers, MPi Senior Consultant for Candidate Services and HR Consulting, says;

“Yes”. I think mining is one area where most companies recognise the importance of experience (which comes with age) and there would be no more or less age discrimination in mining than any other industry,” she said.

“In reality, it comes down to the health and fitness of the individual. Yes, some of the labour-intensive roles would be deemed to be more suited to a younger (or perhaps fitter) person but, really, what is old?”

How many older people work in mining?

These Federal Government figures from 2014 show us what that looks like in reality.

“The age profile of the mining industry is quite different to that of employment as a whole,” the Department of Employment’s Industry Outlook explains.

Here’s what it says about younger employees:

“The mining industry employs a higher proportion of workers aged 25 to 44 years than all industries combined, with more than half the workers in mining (58.6 per cent) falling within this age group, compared with 45.4 per cent for all industries. By contrast, the proportion aged 15 to 19 years is

lower than across all industries (0.8 per cent compared with 5.5 per cent), reflecting the industry’s need for qualified and experienced workers”.

And here’s the Department’s graph showing the percentages of “older” workers:

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Just 10.1 per cent of workers in the mining industry are between 55 and 64 years of age, compared to14.2 per cent for all industries. Only one per cent is 65 and older.

Whether the fall-off in the numbers of older workers is down to what those workers want or the decisions being made by employers, the figures don’t tell us, so we also asked Gail if there was an age at which candidates might be considered too old?

“I would say generally there is a perception of a ‘use-by’  age (often unfairly) for many of the roles in mining, simply because of the hours, the roster duration and the physical nature of the work,” she said.

“But then, I have also worked with 65-year-olds who were more capable than an unfit 30-year-old.”

So, what’s Gail’s advice if you’re an experienced mining industry employee and you’re looking for work?

“This is where professional 3rd party recruiters like MPi can actually be helpful. Not only will they likely give you independent advice about what employers want to see and what they don’t want to see, but they are also likely to be able to promote a highly capable older worker, in a way that an employers internal recruiter often will not be able to”.

Dan Hatch
Mining People International