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Okay lets tackle the age issue! December 11, 2009

Posted by jvmullin in 1.
Tags: , ,

There was a discussion started in a LinkedIn group about why companies prefer to hire younger vs older candidates. Last I saw there were over 125 comments and growing by about 20 -30 daily.

This job market has effected both seasoned workers as well as graduates. The discussion is getting to the volatile point of us vs them. It is not about the seekers. Yes we are in competition with each other and I hope it stays a healthy competition. However, there are a number of perpetuated myths going around out there that need to be put to rest.

We are human, we are trained from birth to categorize things, to put things in like groups, to make false assumptions.

The guilt of a few are placed on the masses. Or in terms that older people can understand one bad apple spoils the bushel. This is ingrained in our thinking and is perpetuated by corporate America in the job market.

It would be so much better if we were looked at from the standpoint of our values, experience, knowledge and capabilities not by cost alone and misconceived notions.

There are  reasons on many levels and I will try to address as many as I can.

Age Descrimination:

Yes there is and it is running rampant especially in the 40 – 60 age range. There is also age discrimination in the 20s range. College graduates are having just as hard a time at finding jobs as the older seasoned workers are.  The graduates who just started in the industry and got laid off are having a hard time because they were not in their field long enough to get the experience that other companies require. Also the younger workers are looking to jump industries and are finding that with out the exact experience they cannot do that either.

I was at a meeting about age discrimination. We listed on a flip chart all the reasons that companies discriminate against older workers. It took 2 sheets front side only to list all the reasons that companies are using to weed us out.

Then we listed all the advantages of hiring seasoned workers and it filled 4 sheets front side only. I told the person that conducted this exercise that she should publish the result to break the misconception that is going on.

Seasoned Workers:

Can’t work with younger people: Yes maybe a small number but I bet most could and would

Are fixed in their ways: Yes again a small number but then why condemn us all. This could apply to a person of any age it is a personality trait is it not.

Cannot learn new technologies: This can fit people of all ages not everyone understands it or how to use it. I teach younger people how to use LinkedIn and Twitter and I am (not going to tell my age but I am seasoned).

Demand too much money: Well Corporate America is this not what you have told us and instilled in us all those years that value and experience equals dollars. This is the same thing you preach to your customers when you want to increase your prices.  Those of us that are savvy enough and know what is truly going on are flexible in the salary department. I know that in the electronics industry that the DOT Com bubble inflated everyones salary and that over the years since the burst they have been reducing the starting salaries back to pre-bubble days. Does that mean that I should still command the salary for my position to that of the Bubble era? If I was an idiot or wanted to stay unencumbered by employment maybe.

The other issue is that we need hirer salaries to pay for our lifestyle and our children’s college education. And lets include higher health costs. Well for a number of people who started families when they were young they kids are out of school and if the economy was better would be working jobs and on their own. They would then see the need to downsize and reduce their spending needs. So guess what they do not need the higher salary and may even invite the lower one. I know that with the experience that I have that as I go forward that I have learned to work smarter not harder. I have learned how to better and faster analyze a situation or problem to resolve it quicker and better. I have learned how to take stress out of my work. Les stress better health. I have learned the needs to eat right as I grow older. I have better habits now than I did when I was young. I want the cost of my health care to be low when I retire so I need to take care now. My youngest son had a large number of allergies (lucky he grew out of most of them).  I do not remember knowing that many people who had allergies or them getting sick as often as kids do today.  I am not saying the younger people are health risks I am just saying look at all the facts not just jump to conclusions.

Are just waiting for retirement so won’t put in the effort: I know I would catch flack from my oldest son and others but I would just say that I am not union.  As I have gotten older I have not changed my work ethics, nor my values. I wish I could say that for the few that mess it up for the rest of us. Yes I have known coasters, but you know what, they never were a worker before. It was just  more noticeable as they got closer to retire.  Why were they kept around so long any way? (Were they union?)

Are not willing to take risks: I have got a good story about that later. This is something that young people will find out soon enough. It is also why I like to work at start ups and I am currently trying to get one going now I like risks. When a company starts it is all about risks it is an exciting time in our lives, the energy the camaraderie, the fast pace. As the company makes a name for itself and settles in you will notice the amount of risk will diminish rapidly. We are after all creatures of comfort. When a company becomes well established then risk disappears all together. The glory days of when the company started and the risks that were taken to get there are forgotten. The management has settled into their comfort zones and there will be no boat rocking in the masses. Again we have been stifled from taking risks it is seen as tabu (forgive the misspelling) to take risk. At this point companies view risk as not needed not a part of the culture any longer.  Excuse me but isn’t risk what will help the company grow even more?

I performed underwater recovery for 20 yrs as volunteer work ( darn gave away my age maybe). At one scene I had to search the lake behind a restaurant. I knew the silt was rather deep back there but we were looking for evidence. I needed a safety diver to go with me. The only one left was a new recruit to the team (fresh out of the Marines Semper Fi). Well I explained to him what was going to transpire and of we went. I found a spot that needed further investigation. So I went verticle and entered the silt. While on my finger tips he could still see my ankles and feet. I performed a sweep of the area and then went horizontal on the bottom. Totally out of sight. I was down about 20 minutes and came up. (There were only 6 out of 139 of us who knew how to do this) When we got out of the water and changed back into clothes he walked up to me an quit the team. He said he had ever seen anything so nuts in his life. Did I take too big of a risk? No I am a professional and I thoroughly understand the risk and the actions of what I was doing. I knew how to get into it and to safely get out of it. (Remember there were only 6 of us who could out of 139). This skill transfer over to my work. I can assess risk better than most people I can analyze it faster and make correct decisions better and wicker than most. I also know how to mitigate risk before it even appears. I am willing to take risks because if it is the right risk the payoff can be worth it. They call it risk/benefit assessment.

Younger workers:

No experience: Here is a catch 22 that is frustrating the young. How do I get experience without  a job if I can’t the job with out experience.

No Loyalty: Companies expect younger workers to jump ship every 3 – 5 years. Do not look for any loyalty from companies they are totally concerned about the bottom line. This economy has shown that more than any other time. Not to offend the few good companies out there, yes there are a few very few companies that realize that their workers are their greatest asset. I knew of younger people that jumped at the chance to earn $1 extra dollar an hour. Loyalty is a two way street do not expect what you are not willing to give.

Will work long hours to get job done for less pay than older workers: I think younger people understand life balance far better than us older people.  After 8 they want to exit they have a life to live. They do not want the life that their parents lived of devoting all your time to work. Especially today when there is no company loyalty. I take my hat off to the younger workers for that.

Younger workers save the company money with less wages: Yes the company wishes! The younger people do not have the wealth of experience that we seasoned workers have. So they are due to repeat all the same mistakes we made. This equates to longer development times to get products to market. All the mistakes (some of which will be costly) have to be made in order to get at the correct answer. Well why don’t the seasoned workers guide them. Excuse me we got let go to make room for them. It was a cost saving initiative. Yes their overhead is less but the costs are higher in other areas that companies are not willing to look at.  Now companies that understand this will keep a good mix of older and younger workers. The young learn from the mistakes of the old so as not to repeat them and then later they become the teachers to the newer younger workers. Business done right.

Okay I have run out of points so feel free to comment with others.

So where do we go from here? I wish I had an answer for you and me. I have one start your own company and run it better than others. Remember what got you there to begin with never loose sight of that.

I do know that we can not get into an us against them as far as the ages go. Neither side has caused the problem only Corporate America caused the problem and fighting amongst ourselves cannot fix it.  We need to come to understand each other better and approach the future with a spirit of greater cooperation between us.  I enjoy working with younger people I enjoy their new enthusiasm, their energy level, and their excitement. I feed off of this. I enjoy learning new stuff from them and teaching them the stuff I know. Collaboration is the power of We.  I do not use there is no I in team because teams are made up of both good and bad players, some contribute a little others a lot. There is also fierce competition when it comes to teams even amongst team mates. Collaboration is more about everyone working towards the same goals in a spirit of cooperation not competition.  The competition is to outwit your business competition and grab or maintain market share by having a highly effective work force. I may be the exception to the rule but I also know a lot more of us exceptions than I do those that fit the rule.

Thank you for listening(aka reading). I hope you got something useful out of this.


1. Mike Strout - December 12, 2009

How do you take a discussion and write a summery that wraps up (now 144 comments) into a neat package with a big bow and deliver it to the world? Just Like this!!
Joseph, Of all the comments in the discussion, and there were some great points, your summery completely captured the spirit and direction that prompted the question in the first place!
Thank You very much for all that you provided to this forum!
Take Care and Happy Holidays, Mike

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