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Bill Bennett

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The madness that is age discrimination

Age discrimination is daft – especially in knowledge-based industries.

Consider this: the average age of an Australian nurse is 45, 20 percent of registered nurses in Australia are over 55.

Although nursing can be a physically demanding job, it is also intellectual. And it’s highly responsible. Few workers in the IT business or PR industry have to deal with real life and death issues on a daily basis.

To handle this work, a nurse needs to be smart and fit. So how come people are regarded as being able to do this well into their late 50s and yet people in the same age range can’t be trusted with moving noughts and ones around the inside of a computer or sending press releases to journalists?

Sure, human brains slow down as we age, but they also amass experience and wisdom.

Older workers have a lot to offer. It may be true that they can’t work through the night as frequently as youngsters or go on so many of those macho programming ‘death marches’. On the other hand, older workers tend to be more reliable and stable.

Perhaps the silliest aspect of age discrimination is that while the skills shortage may not be pressing right now, it hasn’t gone away. Many knowledge based industries are finding it hard to recruit enough youngsters, as older people drift away many won’t be capable of making a return if industry wakes up and decides it needs them any way.

Before you dismiss this as nonsense think back a decade or so. Can you remember how many older computer programmers were rapidly pressed into service during the y2k scare? The telling feature of that experience was that many of the people who could have returned to clear up the y2k bugs refused to do so. Some were bitter about being dumped long before their expected retirement age, others had found life was so good without Cobol coding that nothing, not even pots of cash, could tempt them back.

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