Julie Windsor: The great age debate – why the over 50s should not be overlooked by recruiters

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A recent HR survey carried out with almost 300 HR professionals revealed one particularly worrying statistic: that only 17% of respondents believed their organisations would be likely to look at the 50+ age bracket for future recruitment. With Government records indicating that 36% of the working population will be over 50 by 2020, this is deeply concerning as it shows many are overlooking the advantages that mature workers can bring. It also demonstrates that, in many cases, candidates within this age bracket are not even getting the opportunity to make it past the first hurdle of the recruitment process.

All organisations, regardless of sector, must of course invest shrewdly to ensure future growth and prosperity – and central to this is identifying staff that will deliver strong ROI. Viewed against this backdrop, a certain amount of reluctance shown towards a candidate that may only have a finite number of working years ahead of them is understandable. However, this reservation does not fully account for either these survey findings or recent jobseeker research that revealed almost three quarters of those aged 51-60 feel they’ve been held back because of their age.

There are two sides to all statistics and these do not necessarily demonstrate that recruiters are overlooking the value of experienced staff; they could be indicative of other valid employment concerns potentially related to this age group. One justifiable reservation that recruiters may have is that candidates aged 50+ are likely to expect higher salaries. Firms may also be wary of recruiting from this age group due to outdated skill sets and associated training requirements. In many cases, however, these concerns should not overshadow the accumulated experience and business acumen that can come with age.

In my experience, I have recruited candidates of all ages for numerous roles – including in IT, typically regarded as a “young man’s game”. What I can say with absolute certainty is that age is not an indicator of an individual’s ability to perform successfully in a role. What truly counts is a willingness to invest in understanding the industry, the role and the challenges of the sector that they operate in.

With more than half of over-55s reportedly happy to work past the standard retirement age of 65, recruiters need to overcome their reluctance to hire within this age group. Older candidates may be less malleable and looking for greater work/life balance from a role, but equally candidates may be more adept at coping with pressure and new working requirements. In addition, from an ROI perspective experienced candidates can play a sizeable long-term role in terms of succession planning as managers, shaping the leaders of tomorrow through their expertise.

Investing in engendering loyalty is linked to this. Those in the over 50s age bracket are more likely to demonstrate long-term commitment to organisations and not perceive the workplace as a stepping stone to the next opportunity, and can play a role in passing this mindset on to younger candidates that may have different values brought about, in part, by economic uncertainty. Having systems in place to nurture staff of all ages and support career progression should be central to all HR strategies.

As we face a growing ageing population, both companies and employees have a responsibility to consider the value that senior members of staff can bring to an organisation. Employers must seek out the wider picture in terms of how the over 50s can help achieve corporate goals and provide support to younger members of staff. While there may be higher costs in terms of meeting salary expectations, the value of the investment should also be considered from an experience perspective.

More senior candidates should not have to accept less and undervalue their commercial worth in order to compete against younger candidates and should be able to confidently demonstrate both their age and years of experience during the recruitment process without the fear of discrimination.

Julie Windsor, Managing Director at Talentia Software UK

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2 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. i was under the impression that agism for employment was illegal in this country

  2. Incredible how over 50’s have outdated ” skill sets” however seldom specifically defined or related to competence.

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