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The best firms don't worry about age

Printing World

Joint Managing Partner of Harrison Scott Associates, George Thompson, says printing has a liberal outlook about hiring older workers.

In an ageism survey, organised by the research department of Harrison Scott Associates in conjunction with a number of major recruitment companies in the UK, printing was found to be the third most tolerant industry with packaging first and financial services second. At the bottom was IT.

For candidates aged 50 and over, great comfort can be taken from this survey, though, the fact remains that a small percentage of companies are still age-prejudiced. The failed Private Members Bill by Labour MP Linda Perham, means there is no impending legislation that will force companies to take a wider view when hiring. The remedy, therefore, is in education, not legislation.

When a client registers a vacancy with us we, as recruiters, have to take into consideration the hiring criteria of the client. This might often include preferred geographical location, industry experience, technical knowledge and, on a number of occasions, ideal age. It is in the last category that we find that a number of employers still harbour common misconceptions. Although these can often be eliminated through sensible and frank discussion, a core of the "must be under 35" brigade still exists. When asked to explain their prejudices, the reasons included, older candidates being more susceptible to illnesses, lower energy levels, unwilling to embrace new ideas and, if the candidate is 55 years old, then he or she will only have the potential to be with the company for either five years (often in the case of a female) or ten years (in the case of a male). This is the easiest to eliminate when we say "do you realistically think that a 30 year old male will be with you for the next 35 years?"

Moreover, with the emerging importance of e-mail and e-commerce, employers fear more than anything that older candidates will simply be left behind and not have a grasp of these new technologies. It is in this area that the more mature candidate has an opportunity to add counterbalance to the argument by acquiring IT skills and highlighting this on his or her CV. In addition to detailing this newly acquired skill in the text, it is well worth using this knowledge to create a crisp, interesting and well laid out document which not only demonstrates the ability to use software to advantage, but portrays a more useful attitude of mind. To take the view "I'm too old to learn this 'new fangled' computer stuff" is to indeed invite obsolescence and rejection.

In our experience, many of the successful companies we deal with have a spectrum of age groups within their teams. The modern business environment and attitudes have helped these diverse groups blend together with much more harmony. In days gone by, the older personnel would, in most cases, be middle or senior management, and be addressed always as Mr or Mrs. This is obviously no longer the case in that visiting any company, it is sometimes the younger person who may be the manager.

In an attempt to establish if pro-ageism has commercial merit, we racked our brains to think of a company which was phenomenally successful just employing staff only 25-30 years old. After a number of hours of consideration, none came to mind, however, we could think of many companies which were very successful with a more open policy on recruiting people from a wide age spectrum. For example, at Fulmar Colour, Chief Executive Mike Taylor says: "We find our successful recruitment policy comes through matching the person relevant to the requirements of the job function. One position may call for experience that only comes through age and maturity and another may call for youth and a fresh mind to be trained. Like most successful policies in the business world, it is a question of balance." Mr Taylor also adds another interesting point. "If we were to recruit people only from the upper age bracket, the year would be upon us when almost everyone is retiring at the same time. Therefore a spread of ages is good for a company." His non-ageist policy has obviously filtered throughout the group in that his new subsidiary, Bookmarque, is recruiting staff on ability, not age.

Another successful company which has an unbiased outlook regarding age is Pindar Graphics. Chief Executive, Andrew Pindar, is known to have persuaded one of the company's sales executives out of retirement on three separate occasions. This person is in his early seventies. Mr. Pindar says: "When you meet a quality candidate you don't notice his or her age. We have a number of excellent people in the 50-plus bracket, equally we have many terrific people in their mid-20's."

The saying "opposites attract" has some merit in that the outlook of the younger and older people are different enough to make an interesting mix for those in the environment. We have, of course, seen companies where the mix of personnel are from a very similar age spectrum and although a number of these companies are very successful, it appears they have a higher turnover of staff.

In compiling this piece we asked a number of people within the 30-40 age bracket if this subject matter had any interest to them knowing that it may not affect them for a number of years. The answer surprisingly was "yes", particularly for people in the sales arena where they have to think in terms of much more positive mindedness and consider themselves to be a "finely tuned precision instrument." One of the best B1 sales executives we know in the London area, who is 36 says: "The reason I train every day is that when I reach 45-50, I don't want to be out of breath walking up a flight of stairs. The potential to be overweight when I'm older would put me in the losers' category. At least if I remain slim but old, I'll still look and act like a winner."

In addition to IT skills, there are a number of aspects people can promote on their CV that will help overcome any age prejudices. Firstly if they are one of those fortunate people who are 55 and look much younger if they lead an active life - include a photograph with the CV. Secondly, if they have any hobbies or activities normally associated with people younger than their years, then highlight this too. It may be worth noting that stating: "In my spare time I am a disc jockey in a local nightclub" would unfortunately, not be believed.

Evidence suggests that those companies that have a dogmatic approach to age in employment may be substantially limiting their growth. To be rejected by a company in this category may in fact be a blessing in disguise.

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