Age discrimination: Will you still train me when I’m 64?

Diversity continues to be a hot topic for many involved in training and, as ageism legislation comes into force this October, it will only get hotter.

Surveys show that more people report facing ageism than any other form of discrimination. For example, a recent poll of 2,682 managers and HR professionals by the Chartered Management Institute found 59% claimed to have suffered from age discrimination at work.

Such attitudes and the impending legislation mean that HR professionals will need specialist training, but what about other employees?

“For training managers, the main implication is the compliance that line managers will need to demonstrate,” says Philip James, director at Aspina Learning Resources. “There are three big areas: recruitment and selection, training and performance, and redundancy, retirement and unfair dismissal.”

Avoid the pitfalls

James says a typical no-no in recruitment and selection will be using ageist language such as ‘experienced’ or ‘dynamic’. In training, it could be prioritising someone for training because they are younger and can therefore supposedly provide better future potential.

Aspina’s training product is an interactive CD-Rom called Age OK!. It explains what the legislation is about, gives checklists for the three main topic areas, offers help from employer and employee perspectives, and suggests steps for a personal action plan.

Another player in the ageism training aids market is BDP Learning’s Skill Boosters. It specialises in diversity topics and is developing a range of blended learning materials on ageism including DVDs and CD-Roms.

BDP Learning’s managing director, Paul White, says: “Most organisations recognise that HR managers will need training on the new regulations. But they may not understand that the legislation has implications for all staff. Inappropriate behaviour, such as continually calling someone ‘Pops’ or ‘Grandma’, could be deemed as harassment. All staff need training to recognise behaviours that are acceptable and those that are not.”

Training will not necessarily be easy though. According to training consultants Phil Clements and John Jones, diversity topics such as ageism demand more from the trainer than other subjects. In their Diversity Training Handbook, they say diversity requires trainers to be resilient to constant negative views and attitudes, believe in what they are doing and ‘walk the talk’. They also need to recognise their own limits.

Future impact

There is another aspect to this, and that is the future impact on corporate training of an ageing workforce. The Third Age Employment Network says that currently 70% of people aged between 50 and state pension age are employed. When this rises to 75%, 500,000 more over-50s will be working.

So, increasingly, training managers will have to ensure that training selection decisions are not based on age, and that older as well as younger employees are offered training.

How prepared are training managers? James claims there is a strong demand for ageism-related training. But, he says: “There are an awful lot of companies who are burying their heads in the sand simply because they don’t fully understand the legislation.”

White says that most forward-thinking organisations will use the Act as a springboard for developing best practice.

“Why would you want to discriminate when you know it’s bad for business? It leads to stress and poor performance, whereas treating each other with respect is good for everyone,” he says.

Case study: Nationwide

About 13% of Nationwide Building Society’s workforce is over 50 – a proportion that is growing steadily. It is something that Darren Palmer, Nationwide’s senior manager, corporate personnel, is very pleased about.

“We have been successful in attracting over-50s into a variety of roles, from secretaries and risk analysts to financial consultants and project managers.”

More than 7% of training course delegates are over 50, and the company monitors this to ensure courses are available to all age groups.

For instance, Nationwide is currently reviewing whether to give additional training and support to first-time managers who inherit teams with age ranges that differ dramatically from their own.

Another initiative involves developing training materials to help tackle age discrimination. This is backed by the Nationwide’s Diversity and Equality of Opportunity Committee and its equal opportunities policy, which seeks to remove barriers to promotion, training and development associated with age discrimination. Indeed, Nationwide’s flexible retirement policy allows employees to work until they are 75.

“All of this means that the immediate impact of age legislation on our training and development activities is likely to be minimal,” says Palmer.

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