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  • Blog
  • 26th Jan 2022

Reducing age bias against older workers in recruitment

Older workers, i.e. people over 50 years of age, make up around one third of the UK workforce. Despite this, older workers face a number of challenges in the labour market, often driven by age bias and age-related stereotypes. This disadvantage is felt at every stage of the recruitment process, from unstructured interviews to job requirements around ‘fit’ that can exclude older workers. COVID has only exacerbated these challenges. Workers aged 65+ were more likely to be furloughed than those aged 40-49 during initial UK lockdowns.

Furthermore, ONS data shows that there are 170,000 fewer over 50’s employed than before the pandemic. Given that older workers have lower job mobility, they may face greater barriers re-entering the workforce after periods of unemployment. Indeed, data show that older workers are only half as likely to get back into employment after being made redundant than younger workers.

Over the coming years, we can expect older workers to make up even more of our workforce, both as a result of an ageing population and due to rises to the State Pension Age. Therefore, it is critical to find solutions to the barriers that older workers face when looking for employment.

Minimising age bias in recruitment

Today we are delighted to announce the launch of a new 18-month partnership with the Centre for Ageing Better, to prototype solutions that minimise age bias in the recruitment process. As part of this research, we’re looking to collaborate with a number of employers, recruiters, and older workers with recent experience of the recruitment process to develop and test practical solutions to the barriers older workers face and improve recruitment outcomes for workers over 50. We are open to working with partners from different sectors, sizes and locations in England.

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Research by the Centre for Ageing Better shows how ageism affects individuals – from age-related stereotypes, to the language used by the institutions which influence societal norms – such as government, media, and advertising. Employment is not immune from these biases. Interviews with employers conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies found that employers expressed a range of negative stereotypes about older workers, including perceptions around their IT skills, fitness levels, flexibility, and appearance. And older workers feel this, with over a third reporting that they feel at a disadvantage when applying for jobs due to their age.

What might solutions to this challenge look like?

There are several points in the recruitment process that could result in unequal outcomes for older workers. From how jobs are designed to begin with, for example, whether they allow for flexible working, to how candidates are selected, with several key points in between. Processes will vary between employers, and according to a range of factors such as industry, job occupation and seniority – but even so, we know that there are likely to be a range of light-touch solutions that make a real difference. For instance, we know that structured interviews and skills-based assessment tasks both help to reduce bias in selection processes.

We’ll be building on some of our insights from work on recruitment and equalities. In previous work, we’ve found that:

Join our research

A survey of 500 employers by the IFF found that just 1 in 5 employers discusses age strategically. Do you think your organisation could do more to address age bias, or is your organisation a pioneer when it comes to age inclusivity? Either way, we would love to hear from you to support us in finding ways to improve the recruitment process for older applicants. There are lots of different ways to support this critical research, from attending a workshop or interview, to providing feedback on new recruitment tools. If you’d like to know more about how you can get involved, just click below.

While you may not have thought about age in detail before, this is your chance to become a pioneer in this space. Get in touch if you’d like to participate in this groundbreaking research.

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