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Age is no barrier if attitude is right

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How do you really feel about employing older people? Many people in business are reluctant to employ anyone over the age of 45 and older workers are often the first to go when a company cuts back.

A small business survey conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia reinforced a message that has surfaced time and again in similar surveys that business is choking because of skill shortages. This is also raising the alarm that wage pressures are building up to worrying levels.

Julie Mills, the chief executive officer of the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association, has been encouraging her recruiter members to think positively about finding opportunities for older workers. A paper – Productivity Opportunities Posed by Skills Shortages – told recruiters to work hard to bring new attitudes to the workplace.

It told them to focus on the ‘untapped labour force’ and how, with some well-placed training, an inappropriate candidate could become a committed and highly motivated worker.

Working in a vacuum and not thinking outside the square is often one of the great mistakes of many small business operations. No greater example of this is revealed in the attitudes of employers to aged workers.

It is time for lateral thinking and it has to be done by the people who have the most to lose, namely, employers. Business history has told me that many solid businesses based on sound financial foundations and having a good grasp of their market actually grow their business by an amount that is far in excess of any cost of a new employee.

According to Ted Davis, former vice president of career strategy company, Right Management Consultants, the quest for youth over maturity has real dangers and could place your business at risk. He says the usual excuses that older people are more costly, less flexible, or not so ‘IT literate’ don’t necessarily hold water.

“Some older people are resistant to technology but younger people can be too. Many older people actually embrace technology. It’s not age that matters, it’s attitude.  

“When times are tough and businesses want to cut costs, sometimes it’s cheaper to cut experienced staff who earn more money,” says Davis.

Davis says you need to look at not just the direct cost. Ultimately, it is not so much about cost, but a person’s value and relevance to the organisation.
“In general terms the big danger for businesses as their more experienced staff move on or perhaps get retrenched, is the loss of corporate memory, of experience – the glue and the organisation’s stability,” he says.

Another important factor is the mentoring of younger staff. That is often an intangible value that older workers bring to your workplace. Your business should look at the age structures to help determine what your future staffing needs are going to be.

It’s not age that matters but what underlies the individual in terms of what they offer employers as a total package.

Published on: Monday, June 29, 2009

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