Employ Me Because of My Age, Not in Spite of It
©Jan Andersen 2002
Have you heard industry bosses and politicians say, "There is a shortage of skilled workers"? This is an infuriatingly ignorant statement that is often made by silver-haired professionals who are probably not too far away from drawing a pension themselves. There may well be a shortage of young, skilled workers, but there is a large and relatively untapped sector of 40 and 50-something citizens, with a wealth of accumulated skills, experience, wisdom and dedication that could be invaluable to employers.
Of course, ageism exists even when you are in your twenties and thirties. Fourteen years ago, at the age of 29 and following the birth of my third child, I attended an interview at Reader's Digest. I have no morals about exposing the company, since they claim not to discriminate against anyone irrespective of age, colour, disability or circumstances. The first interview involved a series of Mensa tests and a face-to-face interview with one of the bosses, who quickly scanned my CV will an ill-concealed smirk and one of those "Ah, mother of several kids obviously dim" type of expression. It was this expression that gave me the motivation to excel in the tests, even though I had probably already decided that I didn't want the job.
Imagine my surprise when I was called back for a second interview, this time with the rather narcissistic manager of the department for whom the successful candidate would be working. He spent the entire time grooming his bouffant-style hair and gazing unblinkingly into my eyes, but I assume that was only to gauge his reflection. After briefly informing me that I had achieved the top score out of all the applicants who had taken the test, including some candidates already employed within the company, he went on to question me about my children, my childcare provisions and my family commitments in general. He made it clear that he was only interested in employing a workforce under the age of 25, who had no commitments outside the working environment.
Needless to say, I didn't get the job, but instead of being disappointed, I was grateful. I would never have wanted to work for an employer with such a bigoted and out-of-touch attitude. His mind-set also made a complete mockery of the intelligence tests, when clearly he would rather have a young, intellectually-challenged, footloose and fancy-free floozy floating around the office in a micro mini, than a bright, diligent and conscientious dinosaur who might start taking regular "sickies" to deal with family or arthritis problems.
I stopped putting my date of birth on my CV years ago. I figured that employers would then be forced to read the entire CV, even if it was only to look for clues about my age. Besides, since most forms of discrimination are allegedly against the law, I didn't see any reason why I should have to declare my fossilised status. Since doing that however, I have managed to secure every job I have really wanted because by focusing on my experience instead of my age, I have not automatically been written off by pre-conceived assumptions about mature people.
I am still only 43 and now have four children but, thankfully, since I now operate largely on a remote basis as a freelance writer, my age and family circumstances are of no consequence. I presume that that is because I am not required to decorate an office, nor greet people face-to-face with a youthful glow, nor rush off home if one of my children has a temperature.
The ridiculous fact is that ageism is undoubtedly costing the British economy billions of pounds every year, because businesses are focusing on age rather than ability and are failing to recruit or promote talented, but more mature staff. I can only assume that employers believe that in taking on young, dynamic and innovative staff who will eventually move on to new pastures, the company will benefit more than if they employed more experienced, solid and reliable oldies who would potentially remain with the company until retirement.
There is also a myth that older generations are either out-of-touch with new technology or else are reluctant to learn new concepts. Older people are often more conscientious and have more patience and perseverance than younger generations, and anyone who was competent with old IT can quickly learn new IT. It's not difficult. When I was employed by my last company, Siemens, I had never used Microsoft packages in my entire life. However, I learned "on the job" and effectively taught myself very quickly. After a few weeks, I was competent with Microsoft Word, Publisher, PowerPoint and Visio and within a few months I was teaching other people including my boss certain formatting tips and techniques.
Did you know that by 2025, a third of the UK population will be aged 60 or over? The future success of the economy therefore depends greatly on tapping in on the wealth of experience that we grave-dodgers have to offer. It's time that some narrow-minded employers realised that not everyone over the age of 50 is interested only in sitting in the corner knitting ferret-coloured sweaters all day, or tending a small vegetable patch on an allotment.
Some employment agencies are taking a stance by refusing to accept vacancies that set an upper age limit, but this alone will not prevent companies from offering positions to younger candidates. After all, how many employers or personnel managers would admit to discriminating against applicants because of their age? They may invite the token older person for an interview, but many vacancies be filled by a younger people, with the excuse that their qualifications and experience (and firm breasts, no doubt) are more suited to the role in question. An employer is hardly likely to say, "Well actually you're far better qualified than any of the other candidates, but you're a bit of an old duffer and you don't quite have that cute face or bum that I'd like to ogle at on a daily basis, do you?"
Of course, ageism in the workplace exists at all levels. There will be candidates in their teens and twenties who have been turned down for roles because they are "too young", but the good news for these people is that they will get older and more doors will open for them. Older people, unfortunately, will not get younger, but the news is not all bad. There are many more employers out there who have the judiciousness to take advantage of the wealth of experience that older people have to offer and are thus not adding to the endemic problem of workforce shortages.
It would be interesting to see whether companies who have the sense to appoint older, skilled people are more successful than those whose policies include a secret clause of only hiring those who are still in the spring of their lives.
Everyone ages and invaluable wisdom grows as each year passes, so isn't it time that more companies employed people because of their age and not in spite of it?