Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Would you hire a mature aged worker?

Age discrimination is not a myth!

Too often, age is a barrier for older job seekers
In a significant number of companies and businesses around Australia, there seems to be a reluctance to employ those men and women who are aged over 50.

Perhaps because of a perception that the more mature aged worker is less open to learning and more resistant to change. Or maybe there’s a view that this age-group is unable to adapt to the use of new technology and are too “set in their ways”. 

Whatever the reason, the fact is there are many people seeking productive employment that are aged over 50 and have reported feeling they have been unfairly denied opportunities to re-enter the workforce because of their age (2016 report prepared for Human Rights Commission). Most employers would readily agree in principle, that age itself should not be a barrier to winning a job and that employment should be based on a person’s capability to perform the duties of the job.

However there is evidence that indicates that age-discrimination does indeed exist in the Australian workplace, with one recent study reporting that almost one half of hiring managers had observed age discrimination in their own organisation’s recruitment practices. ….. And this is probably why there is a financial incentive offered to employers to give this particular age group of workers a “fair-go”

In case you’re not aware of it, the Australian Government offers a $10,000 wage subsidy as an incentive for businesses to hire eligible mature aged job seekers. Given the aging population and the implications for the labour market, it is understandable that the government seeks to encourage employers to overcome their reticence in hiring “over-50’s”. 

A production manager explains why his  business hired an older worker
This article explores the experience of an Australian mid-size furniture manufacturing company, based in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne that have taken advantage of the Australian Government’s Restart wage subsidy. 

Coringle Furniture based in Melbourne, Australia
Coringle Furniture use Australian hardwood as the core material for products such as bed-frames and bedside tables which they supply to retailers such as Harvey Norman, Snooze and Forty Winks for example.

If their experience is any guide, then it would appear the mature aged job-seeker could be an untapped resource just waiting to be given a fair chance to show what they can bring to a workplace.

I met with the Production Manager at Coringle Furniture, David Roberts, who is a staunch supporter of Restart. It was David’s initiative to access the wage subsidy through a local jobactive provider (Sarina Russo).  The provider’s service can include pre-screening, shortlisting and even continuing to mentor the mature aged worker after their initial engagement – usually at no cost whatsoever to the employer / business.

The employee is named Van, and is of Burmese background. David says of him -
“Van is really keen to work and eager to learn”

The production floor at Coringle
Coringle Furniture demonstrates quite a commitment to diversity in their workplace, having hired several other Burmese workers. Like any workplace in which there is diversity - whether in terms of culture, gender, age or even personality – the key to making things work smoothly is staff having respect for each other and an acceptance of the differences that exist.

Anyone who has ever worked in a production or factory environment would be aware that it is typically one that is time, quality and target sensitive – with daily production deadlines and quotas that need to be met.

In this type of workplace however, working in a safe manner and adhering to all safety standards is a central part of being a productive employee. And so too is the need to get along with co-workers. David explained that Van fitted nicely into the workplace culture at their factory.

I asked David why his company decided to fill their vacancy through jobactive Restart and hire a mature aged worker.

David says Van has been a great addition to the team
He replied simply “Why wouldn’t we? ….. The older worker brings a wealth of experience. Often they are more settled in their personal life – and can provide a good stable and steady example to the younger one’s starting out in their careers. Van has proven himself to be a loyal and reliable worker and we have been really pleased with what he has been able to bring to our production team. All the other members of the team find him easy to get along with.”

David went on to say “We have no fear in hiring any job seeker who brings the right attitude, the right work ethic and some basic skills which we can then build on – regardless of their age, culture or background. The main thing for us is not the prospect of any wage subsidy – but more importantly is that they can do the job and work well with others. Getting along with others in the workplace is important, because we spend so much of our time at work, don’t we.”

Further testimony of Coringle Furniture’s commitment to this principle was their recent employment of a 62 year old to their production team – quite separate to jobactive Restart.

Watch out for “unconscious bias” clouding your  assessment of a job-seeker
Most hiring managers do not knowingly discriminate 
If your business or organisation has a vacancy, then consider hiring a mature aged worker through jobactive , which has the added benefit of being eligible for a Restart wage subsidy. And if you’re feeling reluctant, then maybe reflect on whether you may be guilty of making some negative assumptions and generalisations about a job seeker based upon their age. 

No-one is saying to give them an advantage over other job seekers – but simply to ensure they are getting as much of a fair go as any other applicant that you consider. It should be said that few hiring managers or small business owners would knowingly discriminate – instead it is more often in the nature of what is sometimes coined an “unconscious bias”.

By remaining vigilant to such a possible negative bias, and assessing every job applicant genuinely on their individual merit, then you will be more capable of making the right decision and appointing the best person to join your business ……. And maybe you will find another Van out there – just waiting to contribute their skills and experience to support the future growth of your business.

For more information about whether your business may be eligible for the wage subsidy, check out the jobactive Restart website

About the author

Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a corporate training consulting business. He regularly delivers Recruitment & Selection training to hiring managers in both public and private sector organisations, alerting them to the risks of unconscious bias

P.S  The ABC News website reports (April 28, 2017) on a recent study in which almost one third of Australians surveyed said they had perceived some form of mature age-related discrimination either in the workplace or whilst job searching in the past 12 months.