Ageism in the jobs market


'Ageism' by Chris JohnstonLets go on a journey together to the online jobs site, wander through the bits and bytes of the virtual employment market and discover how some recruiters and their clients seek to favour youth over experience.

No longer are job advertisements dry copy, written by the paymaster or secretary. Today, recruiters are the fishermen and women of the online world.

How they skewer words, twist syntax and sweeten meaning is an artform. Their baits are numerous: salary, career, fringe benefits, bonus structure, upward progression and let us not forget the clarion call of those who like it 'dynamic', 'young' and 'funky'.

For recruiters, the world is just a spinning ball. Work is a cabaret — Come to the cabaret.

Go to Enter under the location 'Sydney'. Make the classification 'Any Classification' and enter the keywords: 'Dynamic, Young, Funky (or Fun).' Hit the 'seek' button.

You will have before you about 24 job advertisements posted, in the main, by recruitment agencies. We could have got between 300–400 hits if we had searched only for Young and Dynamic. But I like it Funky too!

The jobs displayed all have a high tolerance for those applicants who, by self-assessment, display all three characteristics. Note how most of the jobs are in the area of media sales, fashion and IT, but they can include advertising and web design.

When I worked for DEEWR (the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations ) in mature age programs, I would spend a relaxing Friday afternoon (with a cup of tea and public service regulation sultana cake) calling these recruiters.

The first call was to remind them about the Age Discrimination Act of 2004 and how advertisements should focus on the skills, competencies and capabilities of the position rather than the applicant's age.

To a young man and woman (aged between 25–30), they were the nicest, most polite people one could ever hope to talk to. They listened. They took notes. They agreed with everything I said. These were the type of people who could help me realise the full functionality of my iPhone. They knew stuff.

So it was with some curiosity that I would call back a week or so later to ask why they had not changed the copy on their online advertisements.

It had to do with money. The client wanted young people. The client wanted 'graduates'. The client wanted attractive young women with sales experience — they didn't want an old fogey like me reading them chapter and verse about THE LAW. Yet it was the recruitment agency who wrote the advertisement.

Occasionally a HR manager would go through the seven stages of grief: shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining (a lot of bargaining) ending in acceptance and hope.

I could understand that. It was Friday afternoon. I always gave intractable recruiters ten seconds to think about the brand ramifications to their business and that of the client before I rang the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and Seek. I discussed calmly the potential for some nasty and negative publicity. I had no compunction about 'shopping' them to the law.

Here is why. How important is a job? I'm not talking about a career. Just a job. A job that pays the bills, feeds the kids, pays the rent, puts petrol in the car and keeps the wolf from the door. How important is dignity or self-respect? Everyone deserves that. It doesn't matter if you're 16 or 65.

Young people know this. You're fresh out of school, TAFE or university and you want a job. Any job. But the employer says you've got to have experience. You need employment history — at 17? How can you get work experience when you've been sitting at a desk learning differential equations and the works of Tim Winton for the last five years?

It's time for the recruitment industry to get real. It's time for jobs boards such as SEEK to have a quiet chat with their clients who place advertisements on their boards that are ageist and which may contravene the Age Discrimination Act.

If they don't, it's time for 5.7 million baby boomers to call the recruiters personally. Every day.

Malcolm KingMalcolm King works in the area of generational workforce change. He was an associate director in
DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. 

Topic tags: Malcolm King, ageism, unemployment



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Existing comments

It is time that somebody talks about real everyday discrimination. Age discrimination would cost Australia Billions of Dollars every year. We see highly experienced people being retrenched to be replaces either by service providers or by “young and dynamic” people. Most of the young and dynamic people know that a company which gets rid of its “over 50 liability” gives no loyalty and does not deserve any. They are smart enough to take as much as they can, especially training and use it to move on to a new better paid job with another employer. The employer then has to advertise again and the cycle starts over again.
Beat Odermatt | 16 July 2012

Well said. I hope the right people read this!
Kate Dunn | 16 July 2012

Nicely written and mostly true ... but not always. I work in a small group - a dozen or so, mostly in our 50s - and we recently needed to replace someone who was retiring. I argued for a young person. Not only is it a bit unnatural to not have any young people around, the organisation needs to be taking on and training up the next generation. If we all retire around the same time, all the built-up-over-years knowledge goes with us. But I didn't win the argument ... we got another person in their 50s.
Russell | 16 July 2012

Well said! I'm now 74, but I started finding age-ism well over ten years ago. I would like to supplement my pension, or even replace my pension, with part-time work [or even full-time in the right place]. But I find no opportunities once my grey hair is seen. A life-time of experience, maturity, reliability ... Why? Alice Springs employers seeking someone for admin work at short notice please reply here [if the Moderator accepts this] plea.
Jaymz | 17 July 2012

Malcolm, I very much enjoyed your article, particularly as it correlates with my own sentiments regarding age/jobs and recruitment agencies. However, I would like to suggest to you, ageism is much more widespread that suggested in your article and is quietly supported by governments. I work in a university and the Government authority that assesses tertiary institutions always criticises my university for the age profile of its workforce. As a result, older staff members are being picked off to retire - all because of government requirements. How two-faced are our politicians!
Dianne Cullen | 17 July 2012

I have nine descendents. Four of them are too young for the work force. I am so happy that none of the workers are in media sales, fashion, IT, advertising or web design. They are all manipulative activities which contribute to misery by increasing desire, envy, consumerism and dissatisfaction.
David Fisher | 20 July 2012

I have read your article regarding Age Decimation, and agree with what you say in principle. And yes you are correct that corporation need to have a very good look at themselves, if only this was a perfect world, but it is not. The reality is, Since the GFC World economies have reduced there GDP, therefore corporation have tightened there belt. And because the recovery stage of the GFC on for more then for over 5 years now, corporation have become very creative in there hiring & firing processes, with the assistance of personnel agencies that do there dirty work. In all of this, we went from a self regulation “Which was a joke” to federal & State laws that in theory project people from age decimation. But yet, I have never heard in the last 5 years of any corporation or agencies being audited, which is a very simple process. Either the federal Government know they would be opening a Pandora box or these Law don’t have any teeth. Never the less I would like to know who do I speck to in the Federal Government regarding this, Could you please provide a Name?
Michael Burge | 19 February 2013


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