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AGEISM IN THE WORKFORCE

FIRST there was sexism, then there was racism, now another 'ism' is poised to cause more headaches for South Wales employers 'including how they word their job ads.

The Government is currently asking people for their views on plans to outlaw age discrimination in the workplace by next October.

The consultation 'called 'Age Matters' 'asks how the UK should implement the EU Employment Directive, which bans any age discrimination in employment and vocational training.

And the warning to unaware employers is: watch out for the pitfalls.

The directive covers issues including:
- The scrapping of mandatory retirement ages where employers can dismiss staff when they reach a certain age 'unless it can be justified
- The possibility of a default retirement age of 70, when employers could require employees to retire without having to justify their decision.
- Situations where employers could, in exceptional circumstances, justify treating people differently because of their age.
- Changes to the law regarding unfair dismissal and redundancy.

It will also mean that a number of everyday examples of age discrimination will be outlawed, including an employer telling a worker they are too old to go on training programmes, and a bar on advertisements specifying upper age limits for applications.

Despite the fact that new legislation in 2006 will outlaw reference to age in job adverts, ageism is still rife at present.

A new study by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) finds that 1 in 5 job seekers have been discouraged from applying to a position because it contained an age restriction.

The study shows that although prejudice is much worse for those over 40, 1 in 12 of those under 35 were also discriminated against for being too young. In addition to this, twice this number believe they have been rejected for being too young, but have no evidence.

By 2006 such practices will be illegal with new legislation outlawing any reference of age in recruitment adverts, interviews or at the workplace.

The CIPD warns employers that they need to start changing their ways straight away instead of waiting for the Government to implement legislation from Europe.

The CIPD says that judging people by their age creates artificial problems in the labour market and effectively blinds organisations to obvious sources of talent.

But with a shrinking younger population and a growing older one, employers will have no alternative but to change. Employers will require an understanding of how to manage, recruit, reward, train and motivate employees across all age ranges, and at all stages of their careers. In addition, the whole concept of retirement will have to be reassessed.

The study also points out that by 2050, there will be only two working people to support every pensioner. But if older people were not discriminated against, the UK economy would benefit by more than '30 billion a year, more than enough to pay for an earnings-linked state pension for everyone, without rises in taxation.

But will the theory struggle to overcome the reality for many workers, who could continue to feel that they are on the career scrap heap by the age of 40?

This directive is all sterling stuff, and let's hope the apparent good intentions will halt any current negative practice, but how likely are the rules going to change perceptions or behavioral patterns?

One suspects the reality is nothing will really change other than the emergence of new legislative-aware processes, more carefully worded job advertisements and an ever increasing litigious population aware of opportunity.

Employers have many factors to consider when recruiting key staff. The ultimate choice of candidate will be multi-faceted with age a valid consideration among many other criteria.

The final choice will always be the most suitable person for the role available within budgetary parameters.

But one cannot get away from the fact that getting older will close some doors and limit opportunity.

Those living on the greyline, however, should live in hope that the good employers who are out there will ensure that experience and wisdom will continue to carry significant weight as well.

About the Author
Paul Clutton is a Director and founder of the Cardiff-based recruitment specialists Professional Recruitment Wales.



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