Ageism will ‘lock out’ older workers from employment as furlough ends, experts warn

New guidance released today aims to help businesses address disparities between workers and ensure recruitment processes are fit for purpose

Workers aged 50 and older who have been made redundant following the end of the furlough scheme could see themselves “locked out of work” by ageism in the recruitment process, a think tank has warned.

The Centre for Ageing Better has found that more than a third (36 per cent) of 50 to 70-year-olds said they felt at a disadvantage in applying for jobs because of their age. 

Additionally, the charity cited recent labour market figures that showed 355,000 people over 50 are currently unemployed, with 31,000 made redundant between May and July alone, while an additional 360,000 workers over the age of 55 were still furloughed at the end of July.

In response, the Centre for Ageing Better, alongside the CIPD and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), has today launched a best practice guide to help employers engage with older workers in their recruitment processes.

The guide recommends firms consider age, which is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, as part of their inclusion and diversity policies, and calls on companies to regularly collect and scrutinise age data from the recruitment process.

It also advised employers to debias job adverts by emphasising employer benefits that might appeal to older workers, and ensure that the wording of role descriptions is not age biased, as well as structuring the interview process using multiple decision makers and predefined questions.

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Recent figures from YouGov and the Centre for Ageing Better showed that employers recognise the value of employing older workers, with nearly eight in 10 (79 per cent) respondents saying that older workers could help in knowledge and skill sharing. 

Meanwhile, more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of employers agreed that older workers’ experience was crucial to the success of the organisation. 

Kim Chaplain, associate director for work at the Centre for Ageing Better, said it was vital employers were able to tap into the wealth of talent and experience that this workforce can bring now that the furlough scheme is over and workers over the age of 50 are looking for work.

However, she warned that “too many over 50s are locked out of work by age bias in the recruitment process and not enough employers have processes in place to make their hiring process as inclusive as possible”.

“Everyone benefits from a fair recruitment process,” according to Chaplain. “Employers that want to recruit skilled, experienced workers, and over-50s, who too often feel disregarded because of their age.”

Today’s guide, she said, aimed to “help employers recruit the best person for the job – regardless of age”.

Kate Shoesmith, deputy CEO at the REC, added that now more than ever, diversity of age was critical to creating an effective workforce, helping both older and younger workers, companies and the UK economy to bounce back from the pandemic and build a stronger future. 

“Employers and recruiters need to be proactive in building an age-diverse workforce to benefit their own businesses, their clients and their employees,” she said. 

Ageism in the workplace can be overlooked, but it is important that firms focus on it given the demographic changes in our society, according to Shoesmith, who added that by producing this guidance, “we hope to encourage recruiters to assess their own workforces, and help their clients to address age imbalances and develop more diverse and effective businesses”.

Claire McCartney, senior policy advisor at the CIPD, also said the guidance would help organisations recognise the negative role that age-related discrimination plays in recruitment processes and provide practical suggestions for employers to become more age inclusive.

“It is crucial that employers establish the people management policies and practices needed to recruit, train and retain an age diverse workforce, and harness the skills and experience they have effectively,” she explained.