Need workers? Don’t overlook retrainable older applicants

Gloria Dunn-Violin is a professional speaker, preretirement seminar leader and author. She writes the North Bay Business Journal column New Retirement: A Paradigm Shift.

GLORIA DUNN-VIOLIN, BY GLORIA DUNN-VIOLIN

Human nature seems to follow this norm: Ignore an issue. Let disaster occur. Then fix it if its not too late. Not a very practical process.

Often “the dangers of inaction,” are undermining us writes Joseph Coleman, author of “Unfinished Work: The Struggle to Build an Aging American Workforce.”

This pattern is playing out in organizations throughout the world. The need for more employees is circumvented by the misperception that there are not enough workers to fill job openings. Low unemployment rates do not take into account the thousands of older workers looking for jobs. We need new strategies to employ these intelligent, competent, experienced, skilled and retrainable people.

Two solutions appear in an article written by Thomas Maresca in USA Today (April 5, 2017), in which he cites Singapore’s programs to overcome their employment issues. He writes, “Singapore [is] subsidizing the training of new skills for older workers through their ‘re-employment’ program. The government is also providing subsidies and tax credits for employers who retain older workers.”

“The U.S. doesn’t have a vision like Singapore’s,” Coleman told Maresca. “There still doesn’t seem to be a priority at the federal level to address [the aging population].”

“This lack of focus is a lost opportunity,” Coleman added. “At a time when we would want more people participating in the labor force, we’ve got a relatively healthy, very educated, skilled section of the population that’s being cut out of the workforce.”

It’s unbelievable that while U.S. employers are creating thousands of new jobs every month, older workers who want a job cannot find work. This disconnect is mind-boggling! Why ignore the obvious? Not only do companies have blinders on to older talent, but also they often use one’s age as a discriminatory factor.

“Ageism and not objective performance criteria, is one of the last “isms” to be tolerated in the workforce and is far more socially condoned than sexism or racism,” according to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation. In fact, “about two-thirds of older employees say they have seen or experienced workplace discrimination, and an overwhelming 92 percent say that it’s common,” according to a 2013 study by AARP.

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine and Tulane University sent out 40,000 dummy job applications that included signals on the job-seekers’ ages, and then monitored the response rates. They measured call back rates for various occupations; workers ages 49-51 applying for administrative positions had a callback rate 29 percent lower than younger workers, and it was 47 percent lower for workers over age 64, writes Jared Shelly for BizPhilly (Jan. 4, 2016).

“What to do about age discrimination? The problem begs for a mass movement response,” argues Ashton Applewhite, author of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.” “We need something like the women’s movement, which made people aware that things they thought were their own personal problems are widely shared political problems that required collective action,” she told Mark Miller of Reuters in an interview for Money Magazine (Sept. 8, 2016).

Some companies are beginning to see the light and measure value and competence of workers rather than false criteria. Barclays interviews mature workers from unrelated fields with practical experience. Mike Thompson, director of apprenticeships at Barclays said, “We believe that age or social circumstances shouldn’t be a barrier or deciding factor in finding a viable route to employment. Reskilling can be achieved at any age. Older people have more life experience, and can show more empathy. They will have had a mortgage, [and] they will know how to budget and how to support customers.” (Barclays Employer Focus, Oct. 2, 2015)

Siemens Healthcare CEO Michael Shaw told Ann Petty of The Sydney Morning Herald, “Personally, for me it’s not important if the person is in their 20s or in their 60s. I am simply looking for the best minds with the best attitude.” (April 21, 2016)

How does your company evaluate job seekers? Are you in the “ignore it and then fix it” group, or are you leading the way by using local seasoned talent to help your company succeed?