In the words of the great English poet Alexander Pope, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. With that in mind, I've hesitated for a few weeks but finally have decided it's time to address a ticklish subject here. It is one about which I feel strongly, and having decided to go forward I will do so directly and without fear.
I am going to lay out a case to employers that not only should they not discriminate against the older candidate; they should shift their paradigms and embrace that segment of the workforce.
The first step to correcting a problem is often to admit that you have one, so here goes; the older worker has been discriminated against for a long time. This is pretty widely accepted, as evidenced by the fact that there are laws against age discrimination. As with other forms of discrimination, over the years it has become more subtle. It reveals itself more obliquely than in the past. For example, when I make the case for an older candidate to a potential employer, I might hear things such as, "Its an impressive resume, but we'd really like to find someone with more energy," or "He certainly has the experience we are looking for, but he's overqualified for this position".
The next step in our quest for the cure is to explore why employers are predisposed to think this way. I think there are several reasons, but one stands above the others, and it is not valid today. There was a time when companies reasonably expected their top employees to stay with their employer until they retired. That was the unwritten social contract between the company and the employee - loyalty that went both ways. Hence if you subtracted someone's age from 65, that was how many years of service you were going to get out of them, give or take a few. Wow, has that changed.
The company-employee loyalty is gone, for the most part, overcome by the realities of a global economy, mergers and acquisitions, a demand for short-term business results, and a host of other factors. What you have now is a situation where the average Gen X and Gen Y employee is changing jobs every 3-4 years.
The bottom line is if you want someone today who is very likely to be with your company for 10 years, do not overlook someone who is 55 or 60 years old. They will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge, they will show up on time every day and give you a full days' work, and when the time does come to retire they will tell you well in advance and gladly train their replacement.
As I was writing this, the Florida Marlins professional baseball team announced the hiring of 80 year old Jack McKeon as their interim manager. No word yet on whether they will offer him a long-term contract.
About the author: Paul Sturgeon is business manager with KLA Industries (www.klaindustries.com) based in Cincinnati, OH, an executive search firm specializing in plastics and polymer technology. If you have a topic you'd like to see discussed, a company that is growing, or other ideas for his blog, e-mail Paul at [email protected].