OPINION

Obsession with youth the error of our age

I've been watching Younger on Stan over the past few weeks.

It tells the story of Liza, a 40-year-old recently separated woman with a daughter in college struggling to re-enter the workforce after 15 years out of the labour market.

With a degree from Dartmouth, you would be forgiven for thinking that she would have a better chance than many to find success, and yet she comes up against the same barriers so many in this position find themselves butting their heads against - ageism.

We are obsessed with youth. Simon Doonan was right when he said youth is a global currency. Anti-ageing cream, botox, tummy-sucking-in-pants (or is that just me?), and under-30 lists celebrating the ambitions of youth as marketable commodities within the labour market.

However, all of this seems to result in putting our mature staff out to pasture before their time.

To combat this, Liza pretends to be 26 years old and lands a job in her profession as an assistant with the opportunity to work her way up. Of course this is not the way to go given that misrepresentation of self like that is tantamount to fraud, but I understand why she was driven to such desperate measures.

We have anti-discrimination laws in place that are meant to prevent this from happening, but there always seems to be a way around it.

I've worked with clients who have been told up front that they haven't been hired because they were believed to be too old, but I've also heard all the other excuses given such as they didn't feel that they were as "trainable" or as capable to keep up to date with tech developments, or even able to use computers as competently as the other, younger, candidates.

Regardless of how we feel about this desperate desire for a labour market fountain of youth, we have to acknowledge that as human beings, we get older and as we age, we don't need work any less.

However, the over 55s are a growth group in unemployment statistics; retiring into poverty has become a genuine issue, especially as the retirement age keeps going up.

We all like to think that companies hire based on merit and it makes sense that younger people should have an equal right to those jobs as older people (and I'm not saying otherwise). But, the evidence suggests that there is a real hesitancy in hiring mature workers and the "right" to those jobs really should be exactly that: equal.

Mature candidates are fighting stereotypes of being Luddites, prone to health issues, having a closer "expiration date" (ie retirement), and being poor fits into workplace culture.

However, the evidence and statistics indicate that there is a significant boon to hiring older people.

In fact, there are many arguments to be had about the value of hiring a mature workforce to support the youthful vitality of our younger team members and contribute holistically to the success of our businesses.

Don't write off the older candidates for your job vacancies without consideration. Have the guts to give the right person for the job a chance, regardless of their age bracket.

Statistics indicate that mature age workers actually have higher retention rates, which means lower costs to the business but also stability in the workforce that improves productivity and workplace culture.

We are living longer and with current standards of living, healthier lives. Older workers are also less likely to take sick leave and less likely to be injured.

It is a fact of business that our nation's population is ageing.

Our Gen Xers are now between 40 and 60 years of age - they represent a significant portion of this "older worker" demographic and they grew up through the advent of computers, the birth of the internet and the excitement of technological influence on our lives.

ABS data indicates that older workers (particularly those aged between 55 and 64) are actually the fastest growing users of information technology!

We can't have it both ways. We can't keep increasing the retirement age and continue to refuse to hire mature age workers, so I am proposing a challenge to all of our companies around Australia: don't write off the older candidates for your job vacancies without consideration. Have the guts to give the right person for the job a chance, regardless of their age bracket.