Ageism stifling teenaged talent

Feb 24 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The popular belief that age discrimination only affects people aged over 50 is a myth. In fact according to some of the UK's biggest employers, age discrimination against young people is an even bigger waste of talent.

A report by the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), whose members together employ more than 14 per cent of the UK's workforce, criticises employers for perpetuating age stereotypes and debunks many of the traditional assumptions that underpin attitudes towards age and work.

A quarter (25 per cent) of school leavers have faced age discrimination, EFA says, compared to one in five (21 per cent) of those over 50 and 18 per cent of those over 60.

The oft-heard complaint from employers that young people lack loyalty is roundly rejected by the report. Young people move on frequently because they are denied interesting and challenging jobs, it says. Their mobility is nothing to do with a lack of ‘loyalty’.

Indeed seven out of 10 of those in their 20s believe a career path is important – the highest among all groups, yet only a quarter feel they are given interesting challenges and one in five claim what they do is boring.

"Age at Work", based on a survey of 1,603 people between the ages of 16 and 69, also challenges current wisdom that women only lose out when they have families.

It found that women’s promotion prospects suffer from their 20s onwards even before they have children.

More than a third (37 per cent) of men in their 20s hold management positions compared to just a quarter (24 per cent) of their female counterparts.

At the other end of the age spectrum, people in their 50s and 60s are not all rushing to retire. Almost a third are happy to work until they’re 70 and 13 per cent say that they dread the prospect of retirement, a feeling that increases with age.

Another myth that is debunked by the research is the belief that older people are technophobic. In fact the over-50s are as keen to get to grips with new technology as teenagers. Three-quarters of over-50s like to keep up with new technology, only marginally fewer than teenagers.

What's more, people are happier at work the older they get. More than nine out of 10 of over 60s enjoy work – the highest among all age groups.

Conversely, although people in their 30s are at the ‘peak’ of their career, they are under the most pressure at work and least want to be there. Only half (54 per cent) of those in their 30s are happy with their work-life balance and just 17 per cent would be happy to work until they’re 70 – the lowest numbers among all age groups;

"This is a wake-up call for employers: we need to break the stereotype habit and be much more aware of peoples’ needs at different stages of their working lives," said the EFA's Director, Sam Mercer.

"People of all ages have something to offer at work but a clear message comes through from this research that they do not feel well managed or supported.

"Employers must recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to management based on stereotypes is flawed. It would make much more sense to find ways to retain and motivate workers, and offer flexibility, training and development - irrespective of age.”