Ageism a barrier in the job market

After 18 years Wayne, in his late 40s, was given a buyout offer from his senior management position in a large corporation. His skills were specialized and not readily transferable so, after an extensive job search, in which he was often considered “overqualified,” Wayne took a contract position for a small company providing services to the CEO. Unfortunately, compared to his previous management position, Wayne was both underemployed and underpaid. Ten years later, he was again seeking employment, keeping busy by working on a part-time contract until he was hired into his current position. At age 72, Wayne continues to contribute his knowledge and expertise.

Ageism is one of the greatest barriers older workers face seeking employment. Ageism is the stereotyping and discrimination based on age. Employers mistakenly believe that older workers are less productive. Further, there is often a mismatch between the skills and experience that older workers bring and the employment opportunities available. There may be a perceived technology gap which can be overcome with support and training. With aging, some older adults may face health challenges but, except in situations that include physical labour, health challenges do not necessarily impact work performance and productivity.

According to the 2016 Census, 36 per cent of Hamilton residents aged 55-64 participated in the labour force and this percentage fell to 20 per cent for those 65-74. There are many reasons why older adults may wish to continue working, the most frequent being financial, followed by the enjoyment or challenge of the job.

A review of literature on older adults shows they bring many skills and attributes to the workplace including skills and experience, maturity, wisdom, strong work ethic, business knowledge and networks, lower turnover rates, higher attendance rates, punctuality, dependability and interpersonal and teamwork skills. Ageism can be reduced when younger workers experience firsthand the value of older adults.

Workforce Planning Hamilton identifies many vacancies across occupational groups in Hamilton with the most demand in the sales and service occupations. There is a skilled trades shortage due partly to the aging of the population and a shortage of apprentices in the manufacturing and construction industries.

Increasingly, employers are realizing that hiring and retaining older workers makes economic sense. Employers agree that older workers are needed to counter labour shortages and maintain productivity, but actual practices do not always align. Employers report many challenges finding qualified workers including too few applicants and a lack of qualifications, technical skills, work experience and motivation, attitudes or interpersonal abilities.

It is not difficult to see an opportunity here for employment of older workers who meet many of the challenges faced by employers with the skills and attributes they bring to the job. Older workers can play a critical role in training the next generation of workers and there is evidence that mixed age teams in the workplace are more productive than workers of the same age. What matters to older workers in continuing their employment is flexibility (when, where, how), adapted physical environments as needed, training and lifelong learning, gradual retirement, and fair and inclusive recruitment and hiring practices. In addition, there is a lack of support within employment service organizations to support older workers where the focus is on younger persons.

Strategies for older workers include keeping current in your field and updating your technology and other skills. For example, St. Charles Adult and Continuing Education offers a course on updating your computer skills (www.stcharles.ca) and City School by Mohawk offers post-secondary and non post-secondary as well as employment courses (www.mohawkcollege.ca/programs/get-prepared-for-college/city-school-by-mohawk). There are employment support services, including public, non-profit and private that provide information about job opportunities, assistance to older adults in seeking employment on topics such as writing a resume, preparing for a job interview.

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