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The case for hiring older workers

Posted in Life & Love, and Women's issues

M&MYears ago, while interviewing candidates for a pastry cook position, I ended up hiring a woman older than me. She was fresh out of cooking school and was looking for her first job in order to build a resume. To me, it was a no brainer. I knew she would be reliable, committed and with sound judgment – what she might have lacked in stamina (kitchen work is physically demanding) she would make up in work ethics.

I never regretted the decision. When she left for a prestigious establishment much close to where she lived, after a couple of years of sticking to a commute not many people would have endured, she told me how grateful she was for the chance I had given her. Not many would had been willing to even consider an older worker at her first position. I am not sure I told her that, to me, she had seemed as the perfect choice. 20-year-olds cycled in and out, always looking for the next thing, sometimes calling in sick because of excessive partying the night before, always busy climbing the ladder. Not that I blame them, but when you are trying to build a stable environment, in addition to the verve, disruption and creativity of younger employees, you also need an element of calm and predictability.

The current job market, by and large, is not built for older workers. Within some industries, like Silicon Valley,  they would never be considered and, if someone over 50 managed to get a foot in the door, he or she would probably feel out of place.

But, as the charming movie “The Intern” underscores, it is not impossible, it can actually be desirable, for younger and older employees to work side by side. That is, if both are willing to open their eyes and consider what the other has to offer.

In my field, culinary, I mainly work with younger cooks, who tend to be more iconoclastic, more inventive and more willing to tear down before rebuilding. If such attributes are not channelled, kept in check and placed within a proper context, they can lead to too much chaos and not enough consistence.

Conversely, an older cook might be set in her ways, unwilling to consider new techniques, but will provide the base for innovation by keeping ideas into the realm of the feasible (or edible, as the case may be).

"The Intern" - a fun movie to rent
“The Intern” – a fun movie for a Saturday night on the sofa

My sister, who is 47, is currently looking for a job (not in the culinary field) and is lamenting having to brush up on interviewing skills and resume writing. “I just hate it. I can’t sell myself. I am just too honest in portraying who I am.” We talked at length about stock answers she can build on and I tried to keep her focussed on what she has to offer. And not just her expertise, her work ethics and her commitment.

As older women who have spent most of our lives in the workplace, we have acquired invaluable wisdom, we are not encumbered by the tight schedule of a family, and, provided we are not entrenched in the “they way things have always been done” syndrome, we can offer a nice counterbalance to younger views.

On our end, younger colleagues can re-energize us, force us to think more out of the box and mentor us in all things technology we might be shaky with.

With an aging population in the US, and, mainly in Europe, who, by choice or necessity is pushing retirement further and further away, many industries are compelled to rethink their hiring strategies. And among all the talk of diversity, age should be included too.

We are not quite there yet, and discrimination based on age is still alive and well, but I am optimistic things are changing in the right direction.

Do you have any evidence one way or another?

 

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13 Comments

  1. Although not quite geriatric yet, my first teaching job came about because a department chair who was younger than me valued my industry experience even though I had never taught before and I wasn’t sure I’d be any good. She took a chance on me and off I went and a new career was born. So I was on the other end of the equation and this time it worked out. Of course as one gets older that situation becomes more skewed towards a negative result.
    I thought The Intern was well-done and “charming” too.

    September 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      At any point in our careers, we all need someone to give us a chance, no matter at what stage. I was the beneficiary more than once and I hope nobody ever regretted it. Most of my jobs now are referrals or through word of mouth but if I had to interview again I would be so baffled if I felt the interviewer considered me too old. Sometimes I forget how old I am, especially when it comes to work (never, though, when I am in front of the mirror).

      September 20, 2016
      |Reply
  2. I’m pretty sure in Australia, the government offers some sort of incentive for employers to hire older workers. The incentives are probably a good thing, but maybe the fact that they have to offer incentives at all is also a bad sign of how things are…

    From my experience (limited as it is, but I have been with my current employer for over 6.5 years now), I do find that younger people are more likely to up and leave if the job doesn’t turn out completely to their liking (probably within a year or two max). Older people, however, seem more likely to hang around longer. I used to think this was because younger people are more (desperately) ambitious; but now I’m wondering if it’s just differences in priorities/goals, and in their perception/beliefs about how to achieve these

    September 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I think it’s wonderful your government offers incentives. Sometimes we just need a nudge – if we then prove ourselves as a category, incentives will fall by the wayside.

      September 20, 2016
      |Reply
  3. Sadly, many employers look at older job-seekers only in terms of how many more years of “work life” they have. And if someone is, or looks, close to retirement age, they may be passed over in favor of a younger candidate who is perceived to have many more years of potential service to the organization – which is pretty faulty logic when younger workers are generally much more committed to interesting career experiences than to spending their entire working lives with one employer.

    September 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      When I was profiling Luciana who, at 62, is looking for employement, I did ask myself the question of how many prospective employers would look at her and think she only had a few years to give to a company. As you point out, younger workers have itchy feet while older ones tend to retire later and later. It very much depends on which positions are being filled but the myth of the long term employee is vanishing even in stodgy Europe, where you could be with a company for your entire career. I am not sure if it is good or bad – both situations have their own advantages – but mobility and economic volatility have forever changed that model. Don’t you think?

      September 20, 2016
      |Reply
  4. Winston Moreton
    Winston Moreton

    Yip. Depressing to say but finding a 9 to 5 within commuting distance that pays respectable wages outside one’s immediate family is like winning lotto.
    The young or desperate can get on the ladder by accepting low pay and being away from home for long periods.
    The solution is almost as difficult. One has to become Self Employed and avoid taxes – or win Lotto

    September 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Sometimes I rely on the lotto as my economic model that will save me from working into my silver years. Luck hasn’t assisted me in such an endeavor. Maybe I should buy tickets more consistently.

      September 20, 2016
      |Reply
      • Winning the Lotto is just trading problems. It solves nothing in the long run. But it sure might be nice to find out, wouldn’t it? 😉 As always, terrific perspective. I so look forward to your posts. ღ

        September 21, 2016
        |Reply
  5. I am in the middle of it myself, so I hope I come across somebody that has the same point of you as Campari girl!

    September 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I know. Still keeping my fingers crossed for you.

      September 20, 2016
      |Reply
  6. Oh, thank you for writing this! At the moment I am trying to re-enter the job market in the country that I moved to at the age of 53, and it is DAUNTING! Sometimes I feel so useless on the outside because all they see is an old woman, when I know that on the inside I surely must have so much to offer that they don’t see. The trick is to find a way to tell them that.

    September 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      As older women, I think our biggest challenge is to sell ourselves and be direct in advocating on our behalf. Too much modesty inbred since time immemorial?

      September 20, 2016
      |Reply

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