Becky McKinstry: Older workers bring unique value, balance to workplace

December 11, 2013 

As the director of the Senior Job Coaching and Placement program in Idaho, it has become apparent that today's seniors, ages 50 and above, are facing additional challenges of age discrimination when it comes to landing a job. Employers are trading experience, dependability, loyalty, common sense and wisdom for workers that are younger and less experienced. This judgment call may be due to lack of training, a younger human resources department, finances or limited hiring experience.

After interviewing a department manager from a local medical center, it was revealed that a senior manager was against hiring a qualified candidate because of her age.

This attitude can actually sabotage a company's success and set it up for a long, expensive learning curve.

There are many advantages to having several age groups represented when it comes to a balanced workforce. The senior worker has years of experience in decision-making, strategic planning, stability, work ethic and history, while a junior workforce brings new technology, creativity and a fresh perspective. When a company is employee-heavy with one age group, it will lose its edge by eliminating the balance of knowledge and experience combined with technology and fresh perspective.

Seniors have the ability and experience to train younger workers in areas of responsibility, loyalty, dependability and strategic planning. The company keeps creativity, stability and growth opportunities alive by using the strengths of a combined-age workforce.

Hiring processes have become inefficient and impersonal with the use of online applications, inexperienced and understaffed human resource departments and red-tape regulations. Effective hiring practices need elements that include a hiring department that has a solid understanding of the required position that needs to be filled.

After a careful review of resumes and cover letters, a face-to-face meeting is important to determine a personality fit, experience match, and it should include the department manager's participation.

A local doctor's office that had a large turnover in administrative staff struggled because it was constantly training new people. The staff felt frustrated that when people were hired, they never met the doctors until they showed up to work. The doctors were not allowed to participate in the interview process, training or disciplinary actions.

This type of hands-off approach makes it difficult to build working relationships that are effective.

Training is another area that has been overlooked when it comes to hiring seniors. Inexperienced HR people usually are not prepared to interview a senior. They can be easily intimidated, usually are unprepared and often dismiss a senior as too old for the job. A younger interviewer with limited or no training will often eliminate a senior from the top candidate pool strictly because of age.

There is no law written that states you cannot discriminate against someone 20 years your senior.

Yes, discrimination is against the law, but when it comes to seniors applying for jobs, they are by far the most discriminated against. Training and policies need to be implemented to prevent this. Our seniors are a valuable resource and a necessity when it comes to building a successful workforce.

Do the right thing, include training and raise awareness of the missing piece of your business. Keep balance in your workplace, raise your odds for success and hire experience!

Becky McKinstry is the owner of Open Lines Training, which provides employment assistance to senior citizens. She is also a community member of the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board.

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