The Ageing Workforce DEVOlution Solution


There are some moments in life you never forget. Anyone who knows me will know most of mine revolve around music. One that I can still remember as if it was yesterday happened when I had just turned 17, in Christchurch Town Hall. And anyone who’s met me will know that was a wee while ago.

The place was packed and buzzing with anticipation, not least because of the five shadows behind a huge screen with five archways, and the DEVO Corporate Anthem

Devo Musicians and ageing

(DEVOtees will know what I mean here) fading into the background as the stage was lit up by strobe lights snaking across the stage in front of us.

Suddenly the well-known drum beats of Goin’ Under smashed our ear drums and the band came crashing through the fake screen on conveyor belts, dressed in their latest uniforms.  It was that moment I knew this was something that I would remember forever.

DEVO had arrived on stage and I was blown away – not just by their entry but by the show that followed. That was 1982, it was my second ever concert, and I was hooked.

When I heard they were coming back to New Zealand 30 years later in 2012, supporting Simple Minds at Villa Maria Estate, I had to be there for old time’s sake, but it’s fair to say my expectations were low.

I figured they were pretty ancient by now, a lot chunkier – I’m fairly sure the conveyor belt would have struggled to carry them – and a little out of practice. I didn’t think the sound would be anything like that time in Christchurch.

But I was wrong, I mean really wrong.

From the moment they started until the end of their set they brought back all those emotions and memories from when I was 17. It still makes me smile thinking about it now.

But more than that, it was an eye opener for me: it showed age really makes no difference when you are passionate about what you do.

The reason they were back on the road in their 60s, apart from the obvious financial one, was that they still loved doing this stuff 43 years after they first began.

And DEVO are not alone. More and more bands are hitting the road well past retirement age, and still thrilling their audiences.

Admittedly, some are past their prime and doing it because they have to and it’s all they know how to do (Black Sabbath I’m looking at you), but just as many do so because they want to.

I was chatting to some retirees in Tauranga the other day and they told me that’s because 65 doesn’t feel like it used to. There was a time when most people didn’t live much past their 60s, but now as we keep going for 20 or 30 years more, growing numbers of people aren’t ready to stop work at 65.

There’s a problem though: not everyone who wants to keep working can. That might be for health reasons, but it could also be because the nature of their work has changed and they haven’t kept up, or just physically are unable to do what they were doing in their younger years.

Just as musicians used to sell records, then cassettes, followed by CDs, they’ve now had to adapt to the digital age and stream their music on iTunes or Spotify. It’s meant a different way of earning money and those who don’t embrace the new technology can find themselves struggling.

Our ageing workforce faces similar issues. You can have decades of experience, but if you don’t keep up with changes you can find yourself no longer in demand. The solution has to be shared between employers and their staff, so that retraining and the opportunity to up-skill is available.

It should be a no-brainer for employers.

It’s one of the areas we are considering in the Commission’s three-yearly review of retirement income policies. As part of that we’ll be discussing the challenges of our ageing workforce at a forum this month.

And we’re keen to hear from the public too, so are running [ a survey on our website ]. It’s quick and easy and the responses will inform any recommendations we make to the government as part of the review.

Getting back to my first love – music - it’s worth pointing out that many older bands are even better today than they were in their so-called peak and are making more money now than they did back then. 

Equally, older workers have a skill level, knowledge, expertise and experience that can’t be created overnight. Instead it should be harnessed, perhaps by adapting roles, creating greater flexibility regarding work hours, or using them to mentor younger members of staff.

Last year DEVO released Hardcore DEVO Live! Have a listen: it’s not the easiest album to play (unless you are a fan like me) but it is a snapshot of a band looking back while using their experience to adapt.

It highlights the fact that if you are good at something, age will never get in the way of delivering your expertise and passion. In the words of their 2007 single: Watch us work it.


By David Boyle