A recent article entitled How to Start a Career at Any Age quoted Michael Brandt, chief operating officer of BrightMove, a Florida-based company that designs recruiting and staffing software. He said “Age really has no bearing. The only thing that really matters is the skills that you have.” Mr. Brandt estimates that 95 percent of his clients do not use age as a search criterion. That is encouraging but in all honesty I have my doubts that age discrimination has disappeared that much in the workplace.
Articles by AARP, Monster.com, and other career sites warn of the potential of age bias. AARP reports that a study of BLS figures show that the number of unemployed Americans age 55 and older rose over 300% between January 2000 and December 2009. And the recent hiring of 80-year-old Jack McKeon by the Florida Marlins as their coach, despite his qualifications, brought forth unbridled derision and widespread ridicule.
In these times of attempted recovery it is important for people to update their skills and even switch careers. Age is not always a roadblock to learning new skills. However, attitude is. If you consider yourself too old to learn something new it will be a bar. As I near my birthday I keep reminding myself how important it is to keep my skill base up to date. Of course I fled the corporate world 20 years ago to make my own way in the world, a world in which age is a benefit and not a detriment. But I have seen age bias alive and well in the lives of my friends.
The good thing is that employers are beginning to see the value in retaining and hiring older workers. Even small employers, who try to avoid older workers due to the impact they may have on health insurance policies, are getting some experience that the value derived is greater than the associated costs of older workers. Also, the nature of work has changed and the “strength of your back” is not quite as important as is the sharpness of your mind. And as long as an older worker you constantly strive to keep you skills up to date you may fare well.
I am curious however, how many of you have a “mental model” of “old” that includes slowness, ineptness, lack of new skills? Have this entered into you decision making on hiring or promoting?
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