The Need to Tackle the Problem of Ageism in Recruitment Processes

The Need to Tackle the Problem of Ageism in Recruitment Processes

There’s a viral picture that showed two “young” corps members during their passing out parade. I’m sure these corpers are like 40 years old or more; but they still participated in the NYSC programme. I laughed so hard when I saw this picture because it reminded me of “the adult corpers” we had during our NYSC days. One of those adult corpers was our CLO and we used to address him as “Pa James”. No one dared call him by his name because he was like a papa to us.

If you come to the labour force, you will see a lot of people that are getting younger instead of growing older. For example, you can find someone that was 35 years old three or four years ago that is 30 years old today. You can imagine the confusion such a thing can cause.

The greatest of them all is the magic performed by some civil servants, which makes the Guinness World Records seem like child play. For example, I have seen someone that wrote her first school leaving certificate at the age of 6 months. And I have heard of people that wrote and passed theirs before their mothers conceived them. Isn’t that something magical? And these records are officially documented and stored in their files.

Why do people have to lie about their age? It has become a tradition for people to doctor their ages before going for new jobs, especially if it is for the public sector. Why should age be allowed to decide who should be recruited and who shouldn’t?

Ageism isn’t a problem facing Nigeria alone; it’s a global thing. I was prompted to write this after reading a foreign newsletter that addressed the issue. I was actually surprised that something like this exists in other parts of the world.

Ageism may be as old as man because it has been in existence long before I was born. People have been discriminated because of their age – the young are treated as unwise, while the aged are treated as slow-witted. In those days, women were expected to marry within a particular age bracket. Those that missed their opportunities at that age were branded “old maids” and men were discouraged by their relatives – both male and female – from marrying them. The reasons for discriminating these ladies bordered around reproduction related matters and the fact that their husbands may not be able to “control” them at that age. Men also faced theirs because if a man fails to marry or become wealthy at a particular age, especially when his age mates had “acquired” both wealth and wives, he will be seen as irresponsible.

Today, the world is gradually turning its face away from the expected age for marriage (people can now marry in their 80’s and no one judges them). Even some tribes in Nigeria are beginning to relax their grips on the tradition of early marriage for both men and women. But then, as attention is shifting from marriage age, it is focusing on employment age.

Employers no longer want to recruit people with ages that indicate they have spent many years on earth, unless they are seeking their wealth of on-the-job experiences. As the day breaks, so does the age for entry level into employment reduces. Earlier, the required age for entry level or trainee jobs into most establishments was “not more than 30 years old.” Later, it came down to “not more than 25 years old as at the last birthday.” Now, some employers want graduates that are “21 years old as at the time of application.” Who knows if in the next ten years it will be “graduates with ten years experience but are not more than 20 years old before the date of the application”?

Someone once asked me why employers want more of young people in their team than their older counterparts. For an answer, I told my questioner that companies look for very young people because they want those they could comfortably micromanage as well as those that can work tirelessly because of their youthful exuberance. I also told her that these establishments know that these young people do not have many financial obligations, so they are ok with whatever they are paid. Put differently, the establishments that discriminate the ages of their applicants want young people they can pay peanuts and still get the most out of them.

Well, I might not be completely right but I know I’m far from the truth. I know there are advantages to having young people in a team. For example, they may bring in fresh and extraordinary ideas to the table and they are easier to train. Besides, they have the energy to make things happen, if they are given the opportunity. But I know a lot of employers seek younger employees for very wrong reasons.

The reason someone gave me some years ago for not employing a woman in her late 40’s was that she knows the woman, if employed, will undermine her (the employer’s) authority. She said she is biased with working with subordinates that are older than her because they hardly take instructions from her and some of them go as far as questioning her authorities. For that, she employs only younger people in her establishment.

This sort of situation is witnessed daily in different establishments, even among our domestic staff. For example, that papa that is your gardener may express his dissatisfaction with the way you talk to him even if you pay him salary. He may continue to remind you to show some respect to him because he’s your “father’s age mate.” Good managers have learnt to overlook certain behaviours from people like this so long as they deliver on their jobs.

Employers also have to bear in mind that there are individual differences. That one person misbehaved doesn’t mean that others will follow suit. The easiest way employers can look at older applicants is to see their wealth of knowledge which they must have gathered from life experiences. They should give this sort of people a chance and learn how to manage them so that they don’t have employer-employee face-off.

To reduce the rate of unemployment and poverty in the country, the problem of ageism needs to be tackled, and tackled very soon. A lot of fresh graduates leave school at the age which no longer fits into the prerequisite for most employments. This means that either they doctor their age or find other ways of surviving. I can bet you that those ones that can’t start off their own businesses will only end up doctoring their ages, which is quite improper.

In as much as I advocate for change of mindset towards the age of employment, I still believe that older employees and job seekers need to understand that they shouldn’t use their age to intimidate their younger bosses and colleagues because it only lands them into trouble. They should also be ready to embrace changes and not question every instruction given out by their superiors because they believe they should be consulted first (as par the papas in the house). Furthermore, they need to work hard so as to meet up with their work demands, if not they will have themselves to blame when they are kicked out.

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