Challenging our thinking on age. Are we overlooking talent?

Challenging our thinking on age. Are we overlooking talent? Author: Amy Parkinson Published: 5 June 2017

A hot topic being discussed by many of my clients is the ability to attract “millennials”.  Businesses are adopting agile working processes, creating engaging workplaces and implementing industry leading employee engagement programmes in a bid to attract Generation Y.  

Investment in future leaders is important, however I am a little concerned that we are at risk of overlooking those not in this category. With unemployment at record lows and a shortage of talent shouldn’t we be looking to ensure we utilise every resource available?  

In my role I see a broad spectrum of professionals at varying stages in their careers and I do notice a disproportionately large number of applications from candidates in the “baby boomer” category. It also seems to take longer for them to secure a role than their younger counterparts.  Typically these are people that have had successful careers and now find themselves on the market for a variety of reasons. Many want a rewarding role and are willing to take a drop in salary but it appears that the market is suspicious of this, and I think it’s worth considering why.  

Recruitment agencies and search firms  

Employment legislation prevents companies from age discrimination, we do not record age and we advise candidates not to put their date of birth on their CV.  However recruitment companies are typified by 20 and 30 somethings, working on a “no placement, no fee” basis, consequently often they are not in a position to challenge their clients and could be applying an unconscious bias.  Conversely Executive Search firms are dominated by the more “seasoned recruiter” working with clients on a retained, advisory basis. In that capacity surely we have a responsibility to challenge our clients’ thinking, helping them to find the best candidates by looking at the widest available pool of talent.

Perception of the older generation  
Does the market subconsciously think that the older generation are out of touch?  Or don’t work as hard?  Or have less energy and drive?  Do we only associate talent and ambition with youth? 

Return on investment  
Do we think younger is cheaper?  Do we look at the longevity of career and believe that we are likely to get more years out of someone at the start of their career?  We now swap and change roles, if not careers, more quickly than ever before so surely candidates of all ages are likely to have a similar are on an even footing here.

Ability to manage an older generation 

When we think about building a team around us do we naturally think about people that are younger than us?  Does the idea of managing people that are significantly older concern young managers? If a candidate has previously operated at a more senior level, do we trust that they are happy to be “hands-on”?  Perhaps companies could consider offering leadership training to ensure management can lead talented individuals at all stages in their careers.

I don’t have the answers to these points, I’m merely observing a trend and suggesting possible causes.  I don’t believe that businesses are consciously discriminating, but I think we should all be responsible for challenging thinking around this topic and ensuring we are looking at capability and talent from the widest possible pool.  

Amy Parkinson is a Consultant in the Financial Leadership practice at Berwick Partners.

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