Ageism - another side of the ugly face of discrimination

I had a rather sad lunch with a ex-employee and now good friend of mine. She called to talk to me about the fact that she has struggled to find work for over two years. She is highly intelligent, educated, talented and on the right side of the affirmative action spectrum. However, she does not even get to first interview stage. You see, she carries a terrible burden - she has passed her sell-by date, having just turned 50.

Unfortunately, she is not the only person I know in a similar predicament. Many of my colleagues have - for whatever reason - found themselves back in the job market after the age of 40. Most can recount experiences that left them despondant about the possibility of ever being employed again. A friend of mine called a recritment agency (quite well known) to apply for an advertised position. He was told that the consultants would be with him shortly. The well trained receptionist then asked him for a few biographical details. When she got to "date of birth", he naively answered that he was born in 1960 (or thereabouts) - making him just over 50. The young lady only hesitated slightly before suddenly remembering that the consultant was out and that all the other were busy. She promised that someone would call back shortly. Well - do you think that ever happened? I know many others who were told in less subtle ways that they were too old.

What saddens me is that these are people I know who have a great deal to offer the corporate word. They are educated, experienced and possess a depth of knowledge and skill that they have built up over 20 - 25 years in the business world. We seem so concerned about developing skills (and rightly so) that we ignore the wealth of skill and ability that could be utilised to grow and nurture the next generation.

Other countries - the US for example - have stricter rules regarding ageism. Perhaps it is time we addressed the issue more aggressively in South Africa. After all, people over 40 or 50 are hardly brain dead and suddenly lazy or incompetent. Age is a number - not a definiton of energy or ability.

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Comment by Petrus Leonard on February 6, 2012 at 12:25
What a pity that such a state of affairs exists in the country. Yet, it is true. An organization can barely get rid of you when you are over 50, yet the company blocks all the possible developmental avenues thereby effectively declaring you as a non value adding individual
Comment by Joe van Wyk on February 6, 2012 at 12:21

Alan, you've opened up a topic that's not only valid in this time and day in South's vital to the extreme. My story is the same as David Screen's...I'm 62, tertiary, vocationally and empirically educated, and well-versed in literally every aspect of training, education and life skills. But since my retrenchment in November 2010 I've applied for well over 200 advertised positions in HR, but to no avail! And that's in spite of me being a so-called PDI.

I sincerely support the idea of a forum of "aged" experts: we still have so much to offer, especially in terms of knowledge and skills transfer, quality production capabilities, responsible attitudes towards work, and dependability, honesty and time management. A forum like that could start lobbying the powers that be to commence understanding this cardinal economic fact: the unemployed youth are actually unemployed because of their unemployability...and that the "old" ones can be of tangible, genuine assistance in this regard to teach and guide the young ones in practical ways in the world of work and production. 

Comment by David Screen on February 6, 2012 at 12:01

Bulie i really like your idea of a forum and I for one would like to participate in something like that even if it's by e-mail. Let's see if there are other responses to the idea.

Comment by Bulie Ndodana on February 6, 2012 at 11:26

I am of the opinion that is 'counter-productive' for our country and its young and challenging democracy to hold the view that the wise and the widely-experienced must 'move over'. This country needs the older generation to  continue serving; maybe interested mature people can get together and talk about how they can still play a role in the workplace? a forum, maybe, where we can speak about this issue formally and get a message across to the powers that be.

Comment by Lalitha Shamien Rugnandan on February 6, 2012 at 11:15

Yes I agree this is an important topic and certainly one that needs careful  consideration. Mentorships is greatly needed from persons that have a wealth of experience and wisdom of age. This however  is sadly overlooked in the race for wealth transference and wealth creation. The skills transferrance that this country so desperatly needs is being ignored.I understand that the youth need employment but in order to be an effective and productive workforce the value add that age brings is something that should be utilized.

Comment by Ian Webster on February 6, 2012 at 10:46

I doubt that the political will exists in this country to fight this because of the huge unemploment rate among the youth. I suspect that "You've had your chance; move over and let a youngster have a turn" is the new mantra.

Comment by Ian Webster on February 6, 2012 at 10:43

I have a relative who is 85, fully employed as a pharmacist in a state hospital--including late duty and call out.

He keeps the pharmacy keys because he's the only one they can trust to get to work early enough to open up.  But, no, managers are concerned about an elusive thing called "energy".  "Old" people won't be able to take us to "the next level", wherever that might be.

Comment by David Screen on February 6, 2012 at 10:35

A good article and an issue that has been uppermost in my mind for the last couple of years. I turn 60 in April. I am tertiary educated and have 35 years experience working in basically every sector in our economy (education 14 years; non-governmental sector 8 years; self-employed 6 years; corporate 6 years. I currently work in a factory!!! that probably makes me one of the most valuable employees that a South African company (or the State) can snap up and get me for next to nothing!! But they will take a youngster who can't read or write...   

Comment by Tim Madgwick on February 6, 2012 at 9:56

I was advised in May last year that I was to be relocated to Gauteng by my employer. For many reasons it would have been a financial disaster and I had decided to commute to KZN on weekends. I started looking for alternate employment in Durban & Pietermaritzburg. I applied for 93 positions, 5 acknowledged my applications I had two interviews from the applications. Recruitment companies in general were shocking with zero communication. I am a civil engineer, a professional HR Manager & a paramedic, I am 52 and my wife is 50. We soon relaised that she would not get employed in Gauteng and my salary would not meet expenditure. I am also a white male born in the UK. My employer realised my predicament & agreed that I stay in KZN, stand down as HR Manager & start consulting in HR & safety. Our one option was to emmigrate to the UK as there are still HR jobs available. It is sad that where I have chosen to work in the RSA and have done all the right things by building local capacity I was so easily discriminated against, starting your own business is not always an option if you are a white male.

Comment by Arrie Venter on February 6, 2012 at 9:39

I have first hand knowlegde and experience with this situation!! Knowlegde can not be transfered if the people with the knowlegde are not in the job enviroment. Companies think it is easy to take out the "OLD" employees!!! But the production and knowlegde walks out of the door, but these people should also not sit back and do nothing...we have developed a company that doing well by just looking at the market and using our knowlegde. The DHET is also now looking at a process that the "Veterans" could be brought back to train and transfer knowlegde.  

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