From education to employment

Old, Young and Unemployed Suffer from Different Prejudices, says Report

A study set up to establish what employers are seeking in their applicants by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has highlighted a number of alarming areas both for employers and work ““ seekers, including the bias faced by older and younger applicants.

The report’s mission, to “examine what employers seek when recruiting, and the extent to which government provision meets their needs,” incorporates addressing the issues faced by those attempting to find employment across the social spectrum. The focus is on unemployed and inactive adults aged between 16 and State Pension Age (SPA), which currently stands at 60 for women and 65 for men. A debate is currently raging over the proposed raising of the SPA to 67 in an attempt to relieve the burden on state funds caused by the demographic shift in an aging population. Another aim, which is to be the focus of this article, is to examine the possibility that employers have different requirements from applicants depending on their age.


One area that the report touches on is the continuing bias faced by certain elements of the population; namely those of a certain age and those who have been unemployed for some significant period of time. The report finds that recruitment processes can disadvantage some of the unemployed and other groups. One significant example of this lack of equality in recruitment is the use of informal methods of advertising, such as word of mouth. This procedure means that those without contacts in the workplace are unlikely to hear about job opportunities.

It is not simply a question of discrimination against one age group or another, according to the report. Both the young and the old applicant face barriers on the part of the employers, albeit different ones. The younger applicants are seen as too immature, but possessed of the flexibility of approach to training and development that some employers seek. By the same token, older applicants may well be mature and stable enough to be considered a sound employment investment, but are seen as “hard to train”. This is an instance of unsupported bias, as the report found “little” evidence to support this.

Certain reports indicate that older people are more likely than younger counterparts to have lower skills and qualifications levels (Census 2001 indicates that 50% of 50 ““ 74 year olds have no formal qualification). If an employer is using an applicant screening process based on qualifications it is likely that they will favour a younger applicant on this basis, if these figures are to be taken at face value.

This report highlights the bias that persists in Britain towards certain sections of the community, and is a sobering message for those seeking a balanced approach to workforce development and recruitment practices.

Jethro Marsh

How far can this report be trusted? Tell us in the FE Blog

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