Last week I attended the cepar International Conference on Population Ageing and following a long day of presentations and networking a group of us decided upon an impromptu dinner out nearby. Hailing a cab as you do, I jumped in the front seat as I find people interesting and enjoy speaking with taxi drivers. I didn't need to initiate conversation as the driver asked me what had brought me to be at the Uniiversity of NSW. Explaining I was attending a conference he asked me what I do. Keeping it simple I replied that I am a researcher in population ageing. He then asked if I was doing a PhD. Mildly taken aback I said yes, that I am, and I am researching the utilisation of skills in the labour market in response to the challenges of population ageing and the proposed 3Ps solution. He then asked if I asked people why they wanted to work. I advised him that I am a quantitative researcher and so do not interview people. He told me that was my mistake and proceeded to tell me his story. An Eastern European immigrant in his sixties with three degrees, one of which in engineering, from the very university at which I was attending the conference. He has never been able to get a job in Australia to match one of his qualifications and so has to drive taxis to make a living. By this time we had arrived at the restaurant we had booked, and all I could do was apologise to this highly articulate, obviously educated man, and wish him all the best. I wish I had been able to ask him more (qualitative) questions about why he wanted to work and also why he thought he couldn't get work in Australia, but instead I headed off for a night of networking with other population ageing researchers.
Often we get wound up in the technicalities and policies surrounding population ageing and completely fail to consider the human element. A lesson to be learned.