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There are many preconceived ideas related to age, especially as it relates to employees. Ask anyone who is 18 years old and they will complain about the challenges of finding a first job because they lack experience. They may have skills, drive and determination, but no one will hire them so they can gain said experience. Conversely, ask anyone who is 58 about finding employment as they near so-called “retirement age”, and they will share sad tales of how ageism is alive and well in the workplace. The problem is that if 18 is too young and 58 is too old, then employers are left with a prospective work force that is narrow… and shrinking.
According to Luke Rogers, Chief of the Population Estimates Branch at the Census Bureau, the U.S. as a whole is continuing to grow older. Of the roughly 325 Million people in the U.S., the median age of all people increased to 38.2 years in 2018, up from 37.2 years in 2010. More than four out of every five counties in the entire U.S. had a median age that was older in 2018 than in 2010. This is driven — in large part — by the Baby Boomer generation crossing over the 65-year-old mark. Here is a breakdown of population in the U.S. by age groups
0-19 Years Old
20-29 Years Old
30-39 Years Old
40-49 Years Old
50-59 Years Old
60-69 Years Old
70+ Years Old
|Amount of Population
When employers quietly refuse to hire anyone under 20 and over 50, they reduce themselves to a workforce pool of just 40% of the total population. And, if we do the math, it’s clear that that percentage will continue to shrink. After all, 35% of the population is over 50 and only 25% of the population is under 20. Based on that trend, the available workforce will keep shrinking over the next 20 years as the population continues to age.
Of course, while employing anyone under age 16 is not legal in most states and employing those over 75 may not be practical, being open to employing people ranging in age from (roughly) 16 to 76 affords employers a workforce pool of 75% of the total population. So why would employers want to employ only those who are between the ages of 20 to 50 years old (the sweet spot) and limit their own workforce pool? In a word, stereotypes.
There are stereotypes about those who are deemed too young or too old to do a job. Stereotypes are based on summing up a total group based on what may be true (or believed to be true) for the majority or the average or just a vocal few in that group. However, employers don’t hire entire groups. An employer will hire a single individual to fill a specific position. That employer has a very specific set of criteria they need the right candidate to possess and the company must search for the person who best fits that description. The broader the pool of applicants, the more likely they are to find the person with all of the criteria needed. The smaller the pool of applicants, the less likely to find the ideal candidate and the more likely that the person will not work out and the position will have to be filled again.
Age Really Doesn’t Matter.
Hiring the right person for a job is not easy. There is so much to consider. But one factor that really should not matter is the person’s age. Instead, it should be their level of experience, skills, education/training, emotional and psychological maturity, and quickness of body and mind that matter. What an employer should pursue is ability, agility and stability. Every person is unique and age is a construct that is heavily influenced by diet, exercise, genetics, past experiences, EQ, IQ, etc.
Let’s use an example to illustrate the point. Let’s say that two people are applying for a commercial real estate sales position. One is a 25-year-old and the other is a 45-year old. Based on age stereotypes, one might automatically assume that the 45-year-old is more experienced, skilled and capable to handle the job than the 25-year-old. But it might be a mistake to make that assumption. Why?
Profile of Applicant 1: The 25-year-old has earned a Bachelor’s degree in commercial real estate management from NYU while working as a real estate salesperson full time for the last seven years. His father is a major real estate investor, who exposed his son to the family business since he was an adolescent. He quietly watched, listened and learned as countless deals were negotiated and closed. And, since working as a Realtor, the 25-year-old has helped sell over $150M of property. He is poised, confident and knowledgeable.
Profile of Applicant 2: The 45-year-old was a Logistic Manager for UPS for 20 years. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in logistics from CUNY. Then, five years ago, shifted careers and used his management skills to work at a commercial property management company. He now wants to break into commercial real estate sales and just got his Realtor license. While the 45-year-old has more work and life experience, he knows far less about real estate in general and commercial real estate in particular than the 25-year-old. While he is mature and a solid communicator, he is less confident about how to negotiate deals and knows far less about the ins and outs of buying and selling real estate.
Older does not always mean that the person has the right experience, the necessary skills or the industry maturity to handle a particular position. It is important to look at the person’s qualifications, specific skills, values and perspectives rather than their date of birth.
The same can be true in reverse. A common negative stereotype about older people is that they aren’t tech savvy… and can’t learn. But being younger does not necessarily mean more mentally sharp or technically astute. I doubt anyone would argue that the founders of the biggest technology companies in the world today are not technically astute or mentally sharp. In fact, the top 10 richest tech geniuses in the world are:
|1. Michael Dell, Founder Dell Computers
2. Ma Huateng, CEO/Founder of Tencent
3. Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba Group
4. Sergey Brin, Co-Creator of Google
5. Larry Page, Co-Creator of Google
6. Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft
7. Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder of Facebook
8. Larry Ellison, Founder of Oracle
9. Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft
10. Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon
None of them are in their 20s. Only one is in his 30s. Three are in their late 40s. Five are in their 50s and 60s and one is actually in his mid-70s. In fact, Larry Ellison is still Chief Technology Officer and Executive Chairman of Oracle and remains an active part of the thriving company, despite the fact that he is four years away from becoming an octogenarian. Obviously, there are people who are over 50 who have as much energy, enthusiasm and drive as people who are much younger than them. They also have razor-sharp minds and sufficient memory to be able to run major organizations. And they are certainly as or more tech savvy than an average millennial. Many have vast experience, solid work habits, and the benefit of good genes. They usually keep their minds sharp by constantly learning, and they probably exercise regularly, eat healthy, and avoid unhealthy habits. Is that true of every person over 50? No. But is it true of every person under 50? Also no.
Forget Age; Hire for Ability, Agility and Stability
What a potential employee brings to the table is comprised of a number of variables that can be summed up in three categories: ability, agility and stability.
- Ability – that includes education, training, self-learning, skills, talents, and habits. If the person is able to do the job efficiently, effectively, and with a high level of efficacy, then that person is able.
- Agility – that includes mental and physical stamina, flexibility, dexterity, drive, focus and fluency. This comes from good health habits that make the person alert, responsive, swift and quick-thinking. If a person’s mind and body can do the things for which he is able and capable, then that person is agile.
- Stability – that includes emotional and psychological strength and steadiness. If a person is psychologically, socially and emotionally able to do the things that the job requires, then that person has stability.
Stereotypes don’t account for individual ability, agility and stability. So a stereotype about older people being forgetful is useless. After all, while memory falters for some, it doesn’t for everyone. And, keep in mind that habits and memory live in different parts of the brain anyway. Memory is much more fragile and vulnerable to deterioration. However, habits live in a deeper part of the brain that is much more resilient. Often, highly-skilled people can continue to perform tasks well because they have performed them thousands or tens of thousands of times and it is now a habit that can be done without requiring almost any thought, even when memory is not as sharp as it once was. Therefore the mind continues to be agile even if some aspects of mental processes slow down or become less reliable. That’s why measuring for agility is more important than bowing to stereotypes.
The Bottom Line about Age
Some people are able, agile and stable until the age of 38. Others are able, agile and stable until the age of 83. Some have it ‘til the day they die. And some never have it, lacking fluidity and capacity in one or more areas. So hiring based on a narrow age range will exclude prospects from consideration. Imagine passing over hiring someone with Jack Ma’s abilities simply because he is over 50. Given that most companies now use technology to screen applicants, it is imperative to use those systems properly to ensure that quality individuals are not excluded simply because they don’t conform to a particular stereotype. While it would hurt the candidate, it would hurt the employer even more.
Quote of the Week
“Discrimination due to age is one of the great tragedies of modern life. The desire to work and be useful is what makes life worth living, and to be told your efforts are not needed because you are the wrong age is a crime.” Johnny Ball
© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.