The Apprentice returned to our screens this week in a blaze of power suits, clichés and an “octopus with a 40 inch hose”…
But after watching the hopefuls battle it out in the boardroom for another year, I’m left thinking, “haven’t we seen these candidates before?” Every year we see 20-30 something’s fight for Lord Sugar’s investment in their bold new business idea.
Are there really no applicants with more years of experience worth bringing in to the boardroom?
It’s not just The Apprentice where this noticeable lack of age diversity exists. There are over 10 million people aged 50 and older in work in the UK*. Yet many businesses in transport and infrastructure are reluctant to hire candidates in this demographic for senior management roles.
‘Older workers’ (as the UK government now officially refers to this group) represent about a third of the talent pool available to employers, and by 2022 there will be 3.7 million more in this category. As a country we are facing a major demographic change.
While there has been significant progress and effort in tackling gender diversity in hiring processes, the same cannot be said for age discrimination – negative attitudes towards the over fifties are still common.
Directors who have been very much in demand for their whole career often find the phone stops ringing with potential job offers once they hit 55. It has become common for candidates in their fifties to omit graduation year and the early part of their career history from their CV to avoid any potential age bias.
Some employers hold a view that all older candidates will be “winding down” and less motivated than their younger peers. A generalisation cannot be made of circa 10 million people. Every individual should be assessed on their own merits, not their date of birth.
There is a strong business imperative, in addition to the ethical and legal reasons, to address this issue; the looming skills crisis.
But are employers in the transport and infrastructure sectors reaching out to the over fifties? Despite the statistics – and clear age discrimination laws – some companies still won’t consider recruiting a director into their business who is into their 50s.
So to do our bit to help overcome this bias that still persists in the industry, here are five ways recruiting a more experienced candidate can benefit your business:
1. Industry knowledge & experience
A candidate with 35+ years’ in the sector will have experienced good times and bad, and may well have worked in different parts of the industry (contractor, consultant and client for example) giving them a broader perspective than many others. Furthermore, this industry knowledge and experience is invaluable for coaching and mentoring younger colleagues to realise their potential.
For major engineering projects that only happen once every 30 years in significant quantity, such as major tunnelling or nuclear new build, older workers become even more important. If a business needs nuclear new build experience they either have to look abroad or look to the 50+ demographic in the UK, as no projects of this type have been undertaken on these shores this century.
Experience often makes people more rounded employees. They play to their strengths and have rounded off some of their weaknesses, often knowing what type of people they need to have around them to get the right balance.
Many people in their late 50s and beyond have seen their children grow up and leave home. They may be more willing to travel extensively for business or relocate, particularly to hardship locations, than colleagues with dependent families. For global roles in locations without good international schools this can be a big plus.
If you’ve worked in the industry for 30 or 40 years you should have a decent looking black book of phone numbers. Your peers and former colleagues may be spread far and wide across the industry, becoming an increasingly valuable resource to call on. Don’t underestimate the benefits of hiring someone who may have well-established, personal relationships with key contacts in your clients, competitors and supply chain.
5. Credibility & Status
As well as the knowledge and experience you get from many years in the same profession, you pick up a certain credibility. It can be easier to build a relationship with a client and take people with you through difficult or changing times if you have a CV full of negotiating similar situations. Hiring someone to a tough project that has a proven track record can be a massive boost to a team.
For many of the reasons listed above, those chairing industry groups and taking leading roles in professional institutions are often over 50. Having senior employees with this industry status is reflects well on your company, gives you access to useful forums of industry discussion and increases your exposure to potential recruits.
Of course not everyone over 50 will have all of the attributes listed above. But with over 10 million people in that age bracket, and a massive recruitment challenge ahead of the transport and infrastructure sector, you would be crazy not to look for those who do.
If you would like to discuss how we can assist your business to hire from a diverse talent pool, just click HERE.
*Office of National Statistics – 2018.