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Ageism ‘rife’ in employment


"Ageism is absolutely rife in this industry" says a senior member of Unifi, the banking union. And it is certainly not confined to one industry. Recent research shows that about a third of people who lose their jobs are employed again within three months - but that's mainly the under-40s. Unifi again: "If you're over 40, your chances aren't that good. If you're over 50, it can be hell."

Yes, there's a voluntary code against ageism, nudged into being by the government. But few if any employers are putting it into practice. Even those who have developed policies for "work/life balance" have not necessarily included any measures to "balance" the age make-up of their workforce.

What weighs against the experienced worker with the store of knowledge and even wisdom? For one thing, younger managers don't feel at ease managing those older than themselves. Then there's the view that having younger people around in the organisation gives a sense of looking to the future. And stereotyping of older people means they are assumed to be less flexible, adaptable, and willing to learn.

Of course hard physical work can genuinely demand the strength and stamina of a younger person. But in other fields it's hard to justify this kind of discrimination. So how do we get past it?

For the jobless over-50s, it will certainly help to look young and fit. But for many, for now, the way back into work will have to be freelancing, consultancy or casual assignments. Looking ahead, the forecast shortage of 20-somethings in the next two decades should create an advantage for older workers. And, just possibly, the growing importance of knowledge management in industry and commerce may point up the contribution to be gained from the people who have actually acquired "the knowledge" through a longer working life. But it may be that only legislation will really overcome the ageist barriers.


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