Meeting the specialized labor demands of tech-oriented workplaces has pushed many recruiters to place increased emphasis on job seekers' technical skills and computer competencies, even for roles outside of the IT field. Although this hiring trend has opened up a variety of opportunities for tech-savvy candidates, it's also introduced new challenges for HR managers looking to onboard the most qualified employees. For one, the belief that younger Americans are more likely to possess the technology proficiencies companies are looking for has caused some hiring professionals to overlook talented candidates who fall outside the stereotypical demographic.
While it's true most millennials have grown up alongside computers and mobile devices, there's no reason to assume older job seekers are inherently less qualified to fill positions that require tech skills. This perception not only limits a company's ability to hire top talent, it also has very real consequences for older applicants who are unable to find meaningful employment or advance their careers. In fact, a 2018 survey from AARP found that 61% of workers aged 45 or older have either seen or personally experienced age discrimination in the workplace. But before recruiters can tackle this problematic trend, it's important to first understand what ageism is and how it manifests during the hiring process.
What is ageism?
According to the World Health Organization, ageism is defined as "the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age," which many consider to be one of the most "socially normalized" forms of prejudice. Hiring practices and institutional policies that explicitly favor younger job seekers or perpetuate the stereotype that older individuals are less equipped to take on technology roles would fall under this designation. To combat this issue, U.S. lawmakers passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 1967, which forbade employers from discriminating against workers who are 40 or older when making hiring decisions, negotiating salaries and even assigning work tasks. However, despite these efforts around 16% of older job seekers believe they were denied a position they applied to because of their age, per AARP data.
How to avoid ageism when hiring
Combating ageism in the workplace starts with a revaluation of traditional hiring processes, as HR professionals must be willing to challenge their assumptions and take steps to build a more age diverse workforce. While it's true that recent college graduates represent a large portion of the modern applicant pool, there are also many older job seekers who are looking for a mid-career change. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 25% of the workforce will be 55 or older by 2024, representing an 11% increase from 2000. By developing a talent acquisition strategy that stresses multigenerational diversity, recruiters will be better prepared to evaluate the skills, qualities and merits of candidates on an individual basis and root out bias in their decision making.
Hiring managers and recruiters must also recognize and embrace the value older workers can bring to their company. Candidates with a long history of work experience can help employers improve existing workflows and are often less likely to leave an organization after a short tenure. However, attracting and retaining older job seekers may require employers to reassess certain aspects of their workplace culture and include age as part of their diversity and inclusion programs. It's also crucial to train recruiters and interviewers to avoid ageist questions during the onboarding process and suggestive language in job postings. These efforts can provide older employees with a supportive environment and educate younger workers about the importance of age diversity, which can significantly benefit a company in the long term.