Do Older Workers Have the Staying Power? | BTalk Australia

Last Updated Jan 20, 2009 7:16 PM EST


Older workers are loyal and they can bring a wealth of experience to your business. Today on BTalk Australia, Grahame Doyle of Hays Recruitment talks to Phil Dobbie about how many recruiters still prefer younger staff, or place older people into lower-ranking positions. He says older workers need to compete with a positive approach and to avoid a "begging bowl" approach when seeking work.

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  • Today's Transcript
Phil Dobbie: Hello, I'm Phil Dobbie and welcome to BTalk Australia. Today: older workers stay in jobs longer and add heaps of experience. Yet there're still many recruiters who prefer to hire young. That's coming up. There was a movie years ago called Logan's Run, where everyone was euthanased at the age of thirty. Now thirty seems a bit extreme, but the Aussie workplace does seem to put a lot of people out to pasture well before their retirement age. Grahame Doyle is the director for New South Wales for Hays Recruitment. He joins me now. Grahame, is this just a perception or is there a bit of ageism around in the business community?
Grahame Doyle: There certainly is still a view out in the community: am I getting the best value from my employees as they age? We have a business called Age Advantage, which is focused on mature-age workers and that definition is now over forty --- so not too far away from your Logan's Run analogy. What we're finding in the market when we're talking about mature-age workers is at a senior HR level or a senior management level in organisations, people are talking about the need for diversity --- talking about the advantages of having a broader demographic of people including that older-aged workforce.

Dobbie: Right.
Doyle: But translating that into what actually takes place at the recruitment end of their business, at the front line of their business, what we're finding is that their line managers (who are not necessarily part of that aging workforce) tend to end up recruiting on a like-for-like basis.

Dobbie: Yeah.
Doyle: They're looking for people like themselves.

Dobbie: But you can understand that, can't you? Because it's difficult on both sides if you've got someone who's a boss recruiting someone who might be 10 or 20 years older than they are. And similarly for somebody who's older reporting to somebody who's 20 years younger than they are.
Doyle: You're right, and that's where there needs to be more discussion about diversifying workforce --- actually investment in educating down through an organisation into the benefits that are available to broadening their employee profiles.

Dobbie: So what are those benefits? What can a person in their 50s, say, provide that a person in their 30s can't?
Doyle: They obviously bring a lot of life experience with them, both from a work, professional and personal point of view. What we've found through the research we've done is they bring security in terms of tenure. You know, we're talking about people that are looking to continue their career and when they find the right organisation to work for, they are staying there substantially longer than their younger counterparts. So that's security of employment. You're getting really, really good return on your investment and you're getting a breadth of experience.

Dobbie: Isn't that largely because the person in their 50s is worried sick that they're not going to get a job somewhere else?
Doyle: Partly, but I think there's you know, there're some old-fashioned values of loyalty and commitment that are attached to them as well. When we studied the new entrants into the workforce, we're talking about that generation of people potentially looking at 15 to 20 roles within their careers. Now that, by nature, is going to give them a you know, two- to three-year period of time that they work for you. So look at the flip side of that where you may be able to find someone that's going to be prepared to commit and be with you for you know, three, five or ten years --- that ultimately is a better investment.

Dobbie: So long as they're keeping up with trends.
Doyle: That's right.

Dobbie: That's one notion isn't it, that people in their 50s don't keep up with trends. There'd have to be some truth wouldn't there? Because they, they might understand computers, but do they understand the technology like the kids of today, for example?
Doyle: Correct, and at what pace are they able to learn and adapt to that new technology? But conversely, one of the other key things is a lot of organisations when they're looking at a diverse workforce and looking at their mature age worker, they're looking at them for entry-level roles.

Dobbie: Right.
Doyle: And we can utilise that workforce, but let's look at them for the entry-level roles. It's, it's not really giving respect back to the level of experience and the level of knowledge those people bring to the table.

Dobbie: Yeah, but for a lot of higher positions, I guess, you do need to have that edge with the technology.
Doyle: It varies when you get into the specifics of roles --- it's both a combination of experience, education and technology.

Dobbie: And providing a bit of balance I guess as well. OK, now Hays obviously places a lot of people in jobs. What would you say is the average age range that you're placing? Is it younger rather than older? Would I be right?
Doyle: I think the range is in that sort of 25 to 45 age group. I know that's a big range but we're working at the middle management to senior management ranks within organisations. You're typically looking for between 5 and 15 years of experience as a minimum requirement. So our demographic is very much the top of the bell curve in terms of working population.

Dobbie: OK, so the message for employers is pretty simple isn't it really? It's don't let age be a barrier, they can bring a wealth of experience and, and longer tenure in their role. If you're nudging 40 or in your 50s, what's your advice for those people? What, what sort of roles should they be looking for?
Doyle: I think what they need to be doing is taking themselves to the workforce with a very positive attitude and not a cap-in-hand one. So I think that the mature-age worker needs to articulate what they can bring to an organisation both in their skills and their experience. If they need to re-skill and get their technology skills up there and current, do that before applying for roles and looking at that career step. But this is a sales exercise. If they're competing against the workforce for the roles, they're going to be able to provide a compelling reason to clients and to the employers why they should look at them as their first option.