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Age discrimination is daft 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 is physically demanding, it is also intellectual. And it’s responsible. Few workers in the IT business or PR industry have to deal daily with life and death issues.

To handle this work, a nurse needs to be smart and fit.

So how come their bosses thing nurses are 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?

Brains slow… but

Sure, human brains slow down as we age. 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 often as youngsters. Nor can they go on so many 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 now, it hasn’t gone away. Many knowledge-based industries find 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 anyway.

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.

3 thoughts on “The madness that is age discrimination

  1. When you use the phrase “labor shortage” or “skills shortage” you’re speaking in a sentence fragment. What you actually mean to say is: “There is a labor shortage at the salary level I’m willing to pay.” That statement is the correct phrase; the complete sentence, the intellectually honest statement.

    If you start raising your wages and improving working conditions, and continue to do so, you’ll solve your “shortage” and will have people lining up around the block to work for you even if you need to have huge piles of steaming manure hand-scooped on a blazing summer afternoon.

    Re: Shortage due to retirees: With the majority of retirement accounts down about 50% or more, people entering retirement age are being forced to work well into their sunset years. So, you won’t be getting a worker shortage anytime soon due to retirees exiting the workforce.

    Okay, fine. Some specialized jobs require training and/or certification, again, raise your wages and improve benefits! You’ll incentivize people to self-fund their education so that they can enter the industry in a work-ready state. The attractive wages, working conditions and career prospects of technology during the 1980’s and 1990’s was a prime example of people’s willingness to fund their own education.

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