IN TOUCH : When age is a work barrier

In the time it takes for child born today to get through university, New Zealand’s population will be showing considerable signs of aging. Population projections suggest that the proportion of people aged over 65 will have more than doubled from 12 percent today to over 25 percent as soon as the late 2030s. That has obvious implications for labour supply and suggests that employers will have to undergo something of mindshift if they’re not to start running short of human capital.
A recent research report published by the University of Auckland Business School showed stereotyping is not only alive but it creates barriers to work entry for older candidates. It found that in terms of short-listing candidates, older job applicants were less preferred and seen as less suitable – particularly in areas of lower market demand.
For instance, for human resource administration role, the résumé of 25+ worker was six to 12 times as likely to be short-listed as the equivalent résumé of 55+ worker. Recruiters may amplify employer biases by being more age discriminatory than employers in low-shortage areas and less so in high-demand areas.
In discussion with potential employers, key factors that differentiated older and younger candidates was assumed flexibility and adaptability of young workers. Over-40s, on the other hand, were described as “settled” and the over 50s as “set in their ways” and “resistant” to change and technology. In one scenario, the youngest applicant was invited in for talk even though their experience wasn’t “a perfect match” while the middle-aged candidate with the same experience was told it wasn’t relevant and better-qualified but more senior applicant was told his qualifications didn’t meet company requirements.
The report authors, Marie Wilson and Jordan Kan say the research should serve as reminder that employment discrimination could be continuing problem – both from social and an employment perspective. They also note that “not hiring is not just bad business, it is clearly illegal”.

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