Employers overlook older workers

By Carmen Hall

Tuesday Apr 7, 2015
John Harper has been a plumber for 40 years and hopes to work up to or beyond retirement age
John Harper has been a plumber for 40 years and hopes to work up to or beyond retirement age

Employers are likely to overlook older job seekers, a new report reveals – but local recruitment agencies say although it is more difficult for those aged over 50 to find jobs they are harder workers.

A survey from the Auckland University of Technology and Equal Employment Opportunities Trust found there was a “tipping point,” typically at about 50-60 years of age, at which workers were seen as less attractive.

Read more here: Editorial: Bosses need to grasp reality

It also showed 45 per cent of organisations were facing a skills shortage, which was combated by people continuing to work past retirement age.

“You have to be open to the best person that comes through the door, whether they are male, female, old or young.”

However, negative stereotypes about older workers persisted among some employers, managers, young workers, clients and within society itself, despite it being unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of age in employment under the Human Rights Act 1993 and Employment Relations Act 2000, the survey found.

Human Resource Group company director Brett Looker said: “It is harder once you get over 50.

“It’s possibly a preconceived perception by the general public that candidates may not be as quick to pick up on business systems and processes if they are moving into a new role, in terms of the IT challenges. Another reason is they may not possibly fit with the existing team, which may be younger.”

However, he preferred to steer candidates through to clients in that age group because they often had a strong work ethic, and were reliable and honest.

“You don’t get the contrast of a Generation Y type group, which sometimes isn’t as strong, so there is lots of positives.”

There was a skills shortage in Tauranga in some areas, Mr Looker said, including engineering, housing, construction and senior management roles.

“I interviewed a guy recently who was a quantity surveyor in his late 60s but whether or not I have a role for him is difficult to know, for the very reasons we have talked about.”

1st Call Recruitment managing director Phill van Syp said he found older people “just get on with the job, they are more focused on what they need to do rather than – you know – what is in it for me?” “You would be an ignorant employer if you isolated your market,” Mr van Syp said.

“You have to be open to the best person that comes through the door, whether they are male, female, old or young.”

Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty Grey Power president Christina Humphreys said older people were discriminated against when applying for jobs.

“You don’t get the contrast of a Generation Y type group, which sometimes isn’t as strong, so there is lots of positives.”

“We are having a problem. We know people are not getting the jobs because they are older.”

She knew of people who had applied for over 20 jobs in a month and were depressed after continually making the shortlist but missing out. “They have got the qualifications and they all get to the 11th hour, and we know it’s because they are older.”

Bay of Plenty/Coromandel Master Plumbers Association president Craig McCord said the average age of a plumber was 55 and he employed eight people aged over 50.

However, most people had put down their toolbelt by the time they reached retirement age.

“The cut and thrust is, it’s too physical.”

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce interim chief executive Toni Palmer said age was not what defined an employee but more how they worked within an environment and what they brought to the workplace.

Employers did not necessarily see people over 50 as less employable, as they would look at those employees for the skills they had, she said.

“And as skills are becoming more difficult to get, then the age of the employee becomes less relevant, at either end of the age scale.”

Employees now moved more frequently to build a career and gain knowledge, she said.

No downing of tools for plumber

Tauranga plumber John Harper has no intention of retiring any time soon.

The 59-year-old said he would definitely work to 65 or possibly longer as his job was keeping him active.

“I am enjoying what I am doing and I don’t think that reaching 65 would change that much.”

His job could be physically demanding but he was up for the challenge.

“We are always moving around; sometimes you’ll be climbing or crawling on your knees and on your back or digging so you are quite mobile.”

But that was good for working up a sweat and getting the heart rate up, he said.

Employment

New Zealand recorded the second highest employment rate of people aged 55-64 among OECD countries in 2012 and 2013 and third highest of people aged 65-69 in 2012.

As at June 2014, 22 per cent of workers in New Zealand were aged 55 or over.

Government predicts this will rise to 25 per cent by 2020, with many likely to remain working beyond 65.

The proportion of the labour force aged 65 or over (currently 5 per cent) is expected to increase to 13 per cent by 2036.

– NZ Work Research Institute

Bay of Plenty Times

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