HR believes older staff offer ‘lower return on investment’ in training

HR professionals are guilty of age discrimination towards older workers when it comes to training and development, in-depth research has revealed.

The study, by the University of Surrey and the British Psychological Society, found that HR managers regarded employees over the age of 50 as “poor investments” when allocating training provision.

The research analysed the decision-making process of 48 HR managers asked to allocate a training budget of £6,000 across employees. The list included both older and younger workers, with the managers asked to justify their decision.

Employees under the age of 30 were significantly more likely to be favoured by employers and provided with more generous training, the study concluded.

Dr Almuth McDowall, co-author of the report and professor of occupational psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “We looked at what HR managers are basing their decision on when it comes to training, and found that older workers were perceived to offer a significantly lower return on investment.

“HR managers simply do not recognise they are discriminating against older workers but there is a clear bias towards younger workers when it comes to training.”

Sam Mercer, director of the Employers Forum on Age, said employers were risking legal challenges. “In our experience, the older you get, the less likely you are to be trained,” she said. “But training is critical to motivation and engagement, and employers could be opening themselves up to age discrimination claims by giving older workers fewer opportunities to train.”

Sue Gill, head of skills and training at Tourism South East, said the government needed to provide employers with more incentives to train older workers. “There is very little government funding for older workers, whereas people under the age of 25 have a range of options, including apprenticeship schemes,” she said.

Richard Smelt, group HR director at Carphone Warehouse, said he was surprised by the findings.

“I certainly can’t see HR managers deliberately discriminating against older workers, but maybe there’s a perception that older employees will be more expensive and difficult to train,” he said.

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