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Diversity In Recruiting – Equality and the older worker


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The client reacted very positively to your candidate’s resume and then queried you in depth about your assessment of the candidate. “How did she interview? How does she measure up to our job specs? Her strengths?” And finally, “When can I see her?” The interview is scheduled; the candidate is prepped; and you hope for a positive outcome. After the interview, your client calls you with the feedback, “Great candidate but overqualified for this position.” You probe, “Where is she overqualified? Give me some specifics.”

“She’s just not a fit for us right now.” That’s it. How often has that happened to you? How often has it happened to experienced executives you presented to clients? I honestly think that the “overqualified lullaby” is a convenient phrase to hide behind, probably a lie, and a cover up for something that the client does not want to share with you. In many instances, it’s a dodge to get out of hiring an older candidate.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of age. To establish a case of age discrimination, a claimant must demonstrate that he/she: is in the protected of age 40 or older; was performing to the employer’s expectations; was subject to an adverse employment action; and that similarly situated and substantially younger employees were treated more favorably. ADEA also proscribes discrimination against job applicants on the basis of age. The ADEA is a separate law apart from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is the basic federal law that covers most forms of discrimination in employment.

Relax. This is not going to be a column on ADEA or the Civil Rights Act. It’s just good every now and again to see a summation of the law of our country in print.

In 1954, Thurgood Marshall was a civil rights lawyer arguing Brown vs. Board of Education, the case that ended the “separate but equal” system of racial segregation. Asked by Justice Felix Frankfurter during the argument what he meant by equal, Mr. Marshall replied: “Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time, and in the same place.” Equal treatment also applies to the older worker.

Maggie Jackson writes Balancing Acts, a column that appears twice a month in the Boston Globe. Last December she wrote that companies that tap older workers can profit from a wealth of experience.

Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, the engineering research and development firm in Cambridge is so eager to make use of experienced talent that one-third of its retirees wind up returning to work part time … Draper with its flexible work schedules for semi-retirees and generous benefits for workers whose average age is 48, is a model for the future. The lab ranks first in AARP’s 2004 list of 35 Best Employers for Workers Over 50.

Deborah Banda, AARP’s director in Massachusetts, says, “Employers that face this demographic imperative today gain a competitive edge tomorrow.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics presents some interesting facts:

-Baby boomers, now ages 58 to 40 will begin hitting retirement age in just a few years yet many intend to keep working at least part time

-Most Americans save too little to retire comfortably; older people are healthier than ever and want to stay active

-More than 60 percent of people 55 to 64 years old worked in 2002, up from 55 percent in 1982

-Given these trends, workers 55 and older will grow from 14 percent of the labor force to nearly 20 percent by 2012, while workers aged 25 to 54 will shrink to 52 percent in that period.

Maggie Jackson concluded this column, “The employers on AARP’s list are the enlightened or those already forced to search for new sources of talent. But what will it take to shatter still strong stereotypes of older workers as ready for pasture, not promotion? To start, we have to take the long view and start seeing elders as crucial resources, not impediments to progress. Perhaps the ingenuity and determination of older workers will change mindsets.”

What does all this mean for our industry?

“Older workers soon may find themselves in an unfamiliar position: as a much-coveted commodity. As workers approach their retirement years, they are used to being cast aside as companies cultivate young and rising talent. But with an unprecedented number of people set to step out of the work force, the threat of an employee shortage is forcing companies to re-evaluate their priorities.” (WSJ.com Older Employees Gain New Favor)

In a minute we’ll take a look at AARP’s 2004 list of best employers for workers over fifty because it may be the source of future business for TFL readers. One of the most challenging issues our clients will face through the next ten years is their increasing inability to find and recruit the staff and skills necessary to run their businesses. The baby boomers and their expertise will retire and every business and profession will be affected by this.

Jim Carroll (PROFIT-Xtra/9/9/04) doesn’t think the Gen-Y people are the answer to the pending labor shortage. “Generation Y is the generation born between 1977 and 1999, which today makes up nearly one-quarter of the population. Having grown up with computers, the Internet, video games and hundreds of TV channels, the members of Gen-Y can become extremely bored, extremely quickly which could prove a unique challenge to the corporate sector.”

The demand will grow for older workers. Some businesses, particularly in healthcare and retail, are increasingly focusing on hiring and retaining older workers as the nation’s 78 million baby boomers age.

“By virtue of their sheer numbers, employers have no choice but to really look at this … as a continuing pool of resources that they might need in the future,” said Deborah Russell, manager of AARP’s Economic Security/Work Section.

AARP has been active in promoting employment of older workers. And workers aged 55 and over have been gaining a bigger slice of the employment pie since the 1990s. Their share of the work force increased 2.4 percent, more than twice as fast as their rise as percentage of the population. (http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4916661)

Before we look at AARP’s 2004 list of Best Employers for Workers Over 50, let’s debunk some of the myths out there about older workers. (Source: American Business and Older Employees, AARP, Washington, DC Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Myth 1: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Reality: Studies show only negligible loss of cognitive function of people under 70. While older workers take longer to absorb completely new material, their better study attitudes and accumulated experience lower training costs. The fastest growing group of Internet users is people over 50.

Myth 2: Training older workers is a lost investment because they will not stay on the job for long.

Reality: The future work life of an employee over 50 usually exceeds the life of new technology for which the workers are trained.

Myth 3: Older workers are not as productive as younger workers.

Reality: Overall productivity does not decline as a function of age. Productivity can actually rise due to greater worker accuracy, dependability, and capacity to make better on the spot judgments. Older worker’s production rates are steadier than other age groups.

Myth 4: Older workers are less flexible and adaptable.

Reality: Older workers are just as adaptable once they understand the reason for changes. They are more likely to ask why, because they have often seen past changes in processes and procedures abandoned in mid-stream when they didn’t bring expected rewards quickly enough.

Myth 5: Older workers are not as creative or innovative.

Reality: General intelligence levels are the same as younger workers. Eighty percent of the most workable and worthwhile new production ideas are produced by employees over 40 years old.

Myth 6: Older workers cost more than hiring younger workers.

Reality: While workers with tenure are entitled to more vacation time and pension costs related to number of years worked, replacing workers is not cost free.

Myth 7: Benefit and accident costs are higher for older workers.

Reality: Total sick days per year of older workers are lower than other age groups because they have fewer acute illnesses and sporadic sick days. While individual older worker’s health, disability, and life insurance costs do rise slowly with age, they are offset by lower costs due to fewer dependents. Overall, fringe benefits costs stay the same as a percentage of salary for all age groups. Older workers take fewer risks in accident prone situations and statistically have lower accident rates than other age groups.

How are the AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 Selected?

Employers interested in being considered for the AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 honor must submit a comprehensive application that includes questions about their human resources practices and policies. Because policies that are good for mature workers are often beneficial for all workers, employers are not required to have programs dedicated exclusively to mature workers. However, employers who can demonstrate that their programs are particularly valued by mature workers may receive additional credit through the evaluation process. Areas of consideration include:

-recruiting practices;

-opportunities for training, education, and career development;

-workplace accommodations;

-alternative work options, such as flexible scheduling, job sharing, and phased retirement;

-employee health and pension benefits; and

-retiree benefits.

AARP’s Selection Process

Applications submitted will first be evaluated by an independent survey firm using evaluation guidelines developed by AARP’s workforce experts and research staff in consultation with external labor experts.

After the survey firm’s review, the applications and initial ratings will then be sent to AARP and an independent panel of judges.

Next, the panel of judges comprised of private sector, nonprofit, and government labor experts will review the applications. The opinions of the judges, together with the initial rating, form each applicant’s final rating.

After the evaluation is complete, finalists are vetted to ensure that any organization recognized as one of the AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 has practices that are generally consistent with AARP’s public policies and values.

Workers Over 50 Honorees for 2004

These companies and organizations, recognized by AARP for their best practices and policies for valuing the mature worker, are roadmaps for the workplaces of tomorrow.

Adecco Employment Services, Melville, NY www.adeccousa.com A staffing and human resource solutions company that places temporary and full-time employees at client locations.

Beaumont Hospitals, Southfield, MI www.Beaumonthospitals.com A provider of health care services, medical education and medical research.

Bon Secours Richmond Health System, Richmond, VA www.bonsecours.com A not-for-profit, multifacility health care system with three hospitals and more than 24 outpatient service sites.

Brethren Village, Lancaster, PA www.bv.org A not-for-profit continuing care retirement community offering choices and services to keep residents living independently for as long as possible.

Centegra Health System, Woodstock, IL www.centegra.com A health care system that includes several hospitals, the Centegra Primary Care physician network, a fitness center, and over 20 additional sites throughout its service area.

Deere & Company, Moline, IL www.johndeere.com Manufactures, distributes, and finances a broad range of agricultural, construction, forestry, commercial and consumer equipment.

Delaware North Companies Inc., Buffalo, NY www.delawarenorth.com A hospitality and food service provider that provides visitor services at national parks and attractions, resorts, and at more than 50 sporting venues and 30 airports in the United States.

DentaQuest Ventures, Inc., Boston, MA www.dentaquest.com National administrator of dental benefits.

First Horizon National Corporation, Memphis, TN www.firsthorizon.com A nationwide financial services institution providing services to individuals and businesses.

Gemini, Incorporated, Cannon Falls, MN www.signletters.com A manufacturer of metal and plastic letters for outdoor signage and customized, decorative metal plaques.

Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., Nutley, NJ www.rocheusa.com An innovation-driven healthcare company, with core businesses in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics.

Lee County Electric Cooperative, North Fort Myers, FL www.lcec.net A not-for-profit electric distribution cooperative providing service and energy products to 165,000 customers in Southwest Florida.

Lincoln Financial Group, Philadelphia, PA www.lfg.com Provides financial and security products to individuals and businesses.

Loudoun Healthcare, Inc., Leesburg, VA www.loudounhealthcare.org A not-for-profit healthcare organization providing a full continuum of quality healthcare services.

Minnesota Life, St. Paul, MN www.minnesotalife.com Provides insurance, pension and investment products to more than 6 million clients in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Mitretek Systems, Falls Church, VA www.mitretek.org A non-profit research and engineering company.

New York University Medical Center, New York, NY http://med.nyu.edu A not-for-profit healthcare organization comprised of the NYU Hospitals Center and the NYU School of Medicine.

North Memorial Health Care, Robbinsdale, MN www.northmemorial.com A non-profit health care provider with more than 800 physicians and 5,000 employees in its system.

Pitney Bowes, Inc., Stamford, CT www.pitneybowes.com A provider of integrated mail and document management systems, services and solutions.

Principal Financial Group, Des Moines, IA www.principal.com Offers businesses, individuals, and institutional clients a wide range of financial products and services.

Scottsdale Healthcare, Scottsdale, AZ www.shc.org A non-profit healthcare provider with two hospitals, outpatient centers, home health services, and a wide range of community outreach programs.

Scripps Health, San Diego, CA www.scrippshealth.org A not-for-profit, community-based health care system that includes five acute and tertiary care hospitals, numerous outpatient facilities, and home health care services.

Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, Clayton, MO www.smurfit-stone.com A manufacturer of paperboard, paper-based packaging, and other packaging materials and paper-based products.

Sonoco, Hartsville, SC www.sonoco.com A manufacturer of industrial and consumer packaging products and provider of packaging services.

SSM Health Care, St. Louis, MO www.ssmhc.com A healthcare network sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary that delivers patient care in the St. Louis region.

St. Mary’s Medical Center, Huntington, WV www.st-marys.org A regional medical center in the tri-state region of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky, specializing in cardiac, oncology, trauma, and neuroscience services.

Stanley Consultants, Inc., Muscatine, IA www.stanleyconsultants.com A multidisciplinary consulting firm that provides engineering, environmental and construction services worldwide.

The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc. Cambridge, MA www.draper.com A private, not-for-profit corporation engaged in applied research, engineering development, technology transfer, and advanced technical education.

The Methodist Hospital, Houston, TX www.methodisthealth.com A nonprofit health care organization made up of a flagship hospital, The Methodist Hospital, and three community hospitals.

The Vanguard Group, Valley Forge, PA www.vanguard.com An investment management company that provides an array of financial products and services, including mutual fund investments and employer-sponsored retirement plan services.

Volkswagen of America, Inc., Auburn Hills, MI www.vw.com Manufacturer of passenger cars and trucks.

WELBRO Building Corporation, Maitland, FL www.welbro.com A full-service construction management and general contracting company.

West Virginia University Hospitals, Morgantown, WV www.wvuh.com A private, not-for-profit corporation that is closely tied to West Virginia University and includes three hospitals, a trauma center, and the WVU Eye Institute.

Westgate Resorts, Orlando, FL www.westgateresorts.com A privately-held timeshare company that employs over 5,000 people throughout the country.

Zurich North America, Schaumburg, IL www.zurichna.com A commercial property-casualty insurance provider serving the multinational, middle market and small business sectors in the United States and Canada.

Frank X. McCarthy is Partner in Charge of Diversity Practice with The Corporate Source Group. He was a Catholic priest from 1956-70, working in parish and school assignments, serving as a paratrooper chaplain with the 101st Airborne, and as pastor and director of an African American community project in Paterson, NJ. He founded Xavier Associates and conducted diversity searches for over 25 years. Frank is a well-known and widely respected author and speaker on workplace diversity, recruiting, and candidate research. He can be reached: frank@diverseworkplace.com