Wake Up! Talent is Ageless

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ageless talentThis doesn’t seem to be a message that is getting through to corporate America. As recruiters and HR Professionals focus more and more on Millennials and even future workforce Generation Z, older workers seem to be getting the proverbial shaft. But is it because older workers can’t adapt to what even analysts are calling a new “role-based” economy or because the new generation of workers are multi-skilled, highly focused and more demanding in general?

Most shops won’t admit it readily, but gray-hair phobia is a reality in the digital era. With agencies continually restructuring and changing models to keep pace with the public’s media consumption habits, adland is right to be digitally obsessed. But most in the industry wrongly assume that the only people who grasp digital are fresh out of college.

According to the above quote from AdAge, a digital world is widely believed to be passing boomers and even Gen-Xers by. In a world with stagnant or declining jobs, particularly in high tech industries, older workers have the distinct disadvantage of discrimination, even if their skills and experience speak to their ability to do the job.

Part of the problem, analysts said, is that many of the companies shedding jobs are technology manufacturers, while most of the companies that are hiring are Internet-based.

While this is true in Silicon Valley, does it resonate with the rest of America? The answer is a resounding yes. More and more companies are focusing on the high schooler who knows how to “do” social networking or the college student that sold his first company post-graduation. In the heart of the country, where service and industrial still have some clout, even older grad students are finding their skills undervalued. So-called code words like “passion” “entrepreneurial spirit” and “self-directed” attract young people while repelling older workers. 

A 2008 AARP survey of 1,500 U.S. workers ages 45 to 74 found nearly 60% experienced or saw age discrimination on the job or during the hiring process. According to Cappelli’s research, age bias is now a bigger issue than gender or race. Some industries are worse; he cites a report in which a majority of IT recruiters said they wouldn’t hire someone over 40.

Shockingly, recruiters and HR professionals might be part of the issue. (Hint: Age discrimination is NOT allowed.) The “Silver Tsunami” is poised to drench the current workforce, as fewer and fewer 60+ employees are choosing retirement or semi-retirement. In the current aftermath of our economic crisis, can you blame them? Some recruiters and business experts are “waving the silver flag” to older workers and encouraging their colleagues in Talent Acquisition to do the same.

Employers that accommodate older workers can find a ready pool of talent for jobs that might otherwise go unfilled. A study sponsored by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a think tank that helps people find “encore careers,” predicts as many as five million job vacancies by 2018 if the baby boomers retire at the same rate and age as current older workers. Many of these vacancies will be in social service fields such as health care, education and non-profit positions. Not only will there be jobs for older workers to fill, says the study, “but the nation will absolutely need older workers to step up and take them.”

And while economic turbulence and tech innovation may be partly to blame for the issues surrounding older workers in the U.S., countries around the world are facing the same issues and reacting differently. In Australia, Alison Monroe, of SageCo: 

Employers that rely on ‘youth talent’ are effectively shooting themselves in the foot because they are also weeding out experience and expertise within their organisation (sic).

Emphasizing a similar point, the Boston Consulting Group released information detailing how employers “must find ways to make the workplace “age friendly”” in order to remain competitive. Due to macro-demographic, economic, and technological trends, employers not only have to change the way they are doing things because of morality or legality, but because of a real-world business imperative to get the best talent. And talent is ageless. Period.

By Maren Hogan