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    The fight against ageism

    Most of us have been there. We have high expectations of landing a job for which we are well suited and perfectly qualified, only to be turned down for no better reason than we are too young or too old in the eyes of the short-sighted employer.

    So, when is the right age? At what point do you get to an age when an employer will consider you mature enough to do the job – even if you have already spent many years training and probably even doing the work without the title?

    Or at the other end of the scale, when do you become too old for employment even if you have aeons of practical knowhow and experience behind you and years of working life ahead of you?

    Actually the age when you are too young and too old is frighteningly close. In fact ageism is so rife in the British workplace that people have only five years in their entire working life during which they are unlikely to be judged too young or too old for a job.

    It is an odd fact of modern day working life. After all, no one can say that Sir Richard Branson was too young when he took the first step on his road to success by founding a magazine when he was still a schoolboy, or that he is now too old to run his diverse empire.

    But a new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has discovered that as many as one in five people have been discouraged from applying for a job because it contained an age restriction.

    The CIPD evidence, endorsed by similar findings from the Department for Work and Pensions, also finds that although age prejudice is much worse for people over 40, one in 12 under 35s have been told they were too young to be considered. Twice this number believe they have been rejected for being too young, but have no evidence. Such ill-founded bigotry has shrunk the perceived perfect age to a lamentable half a decade during an average working life of nearly 50 years. Dinah Worman, CIPD diversity adviser comments: “Age discrimination is costly to business given that older workers achieve the same levels of performance as younger workers. In fact, the business case for employing older workers seems more compelling as they are more likely to stay in their jobs for longer. The cost of replacing staff is more than £3,500 on average.”

    But within three years, British employers will be acting illegally if they let age prejudice influence their recruitment. In a specially commissioned briefing document, the CIPD warns employers that they need to start changing their ways straightaway instead of waiting for the Government to implement legislation from Europe in 2006.

    “Waiting for legislation – which in itself could trigger knee-jerk, damage-limitation responses – will be too late, and may leave companies exposed to legal risks,” says the report, The Challenge Of The Age.

    “As the UK has an ageing population,” it points out, “organisations fixated by youth are in danger of alienating millions of potential customers.”

    Dinah Worman contines: “The CIPD says that judging people by their age creates artificial problems in the labour market and effectively blinds organisations to obvious sources of talent. But with a shrinking younger population and a growing older one, employers will have no alternative but to change. Employers will require an understanding of how to manage, recruit and motivate employees across all age ranges, and stages of their careers. In addition, the whole concept of retirement will have to be reassessed.”

    The Pensions Green Paper, put forward by the Government and expected to lead to fresh legislation soon after the law on age discrimination comes into force, contains a raft of tax and pension changes to encourage people to work for longer. The CIPD points out that by 2050, there will be only two working people to support every pensioner. But if older people were not discriminated against, the UK economy would benefit by more than £30 billion a year.

    Bristol Evening Post 7th January 2004