This can be an even more prevalent issue in certain types of industries or roles—when hiring tradespeople and blue collar workers, for instance, who employers may feel are “too old to…lift heavy materials; climb on tall roofs; work for hours in hot, cold, or otherwise uncomfortable conditions,” etc.
The truth is, though, that age doesn’t necessarily define capabilities.
Just ask Tom Brady who, at 45, is the oldest active NFL player in league history and the undisputed greatest of all time (GOAT).
Yet, these misconceptions are pervasive and color the employment decisions that employers, especially in the trades, make.
Ageism in the trades or among blue collar workers involved in manual types of labor can be particularly vexing. Common stereotypes about what older employees can, and can’t, do physically can lead to unconscious biases that nevertheless impact employees’ jobs and livelihoods.
Jennifer Hartman, an HR staff writer and human resources expert for Fit Small Business says: “In today's job market, it's important to avoid ageism when hiring workers, including temp workers. Ageism is a form of discrimination that can occur when employers make assumptions about workers based on their age. This can manifest in a number of ways, including hiring practices that favor younger workers over those who are older.”
Bloomberg reports that “nearly 80% of older workers say they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, according to a 2021 survey by AARP.”
So what should employers do to help get beyond any biases—known or unconscious—they may have and ensure that their hiring and employment practices are bias-free? Here we take a look at some best practices that can readily be put into place.
A good place to start to stamp out the potential for ageism in hiring is with your job postings and application processing processes.
For instance, Mangrum suggests:
The hiring process itself can lead to unintentional discrimination based on the sources used to find candidates. Casting a wide net can help, advises Texas attorney Ben Michael, VP of operations with Michael & Associates. “One of the most effective ways we've found to avoid ageism is actually to set up different job postings with different technical and experience requirements, all of which ultimately funnel to the same position,” he says. “We do this in order to attract a diverse candidate pool with a good mix of more experienced candidates and younger ones, as well as those with broader transferable skills in addition to those with specific technical expertise.”
Making a commitment to focus on qualifications rather than personal demographic characteristics (like age) is another important best practice, says Hartman. “Age should only be a factor if it is relevant to the job requirements,” she says. “For instance, if a job requires lifting heavy objects, then an employer may want to consider candidates who are physically able to perform the task.”
Keep in mind, though, that physical ability doesn’t necessarily correlate with age. Instead of asking how old a candidate is, ask them how much weight they can lift, carry, or move, for instance.
When interviewing candidates, Mangrum recommends having a hiring panel that is multigenerational. That’s a good way to eliminate or minimize the potential for unconscious bias from creeping into the decision-making process, she says.
Communicate your stance on ageism clearly and frequently. Nelson Sherwin, manager of PEO Companies, says: “If your company offers diversity training, include ageism in the training and promote an accepting workplace where older employees are deserving of just as much respect as the young ones.” Make it clear to your entire company that your older employees are valuable to you, Sherwin advises.
There are many ways companies can ensure that their hiring practices, for both full-time and temporary staff roles, are fair and unbiased. It starts with awareness and the recognition that we all suffer from various unconscious biases. By taking the steps recommended here, though, that potential can be minimized or eliminated.