‘Milk round’ may constitute age discrimination

A new law that will make age discrimination illegal in 2006 could see recruitment programmes specifically targeted at graduates – such as the ‘milk round’ – banned, the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (ATSCo) has warned.

According to ATSCo, the milk round may be illegal under the section of the new law that concerns indirect discrimination.

Indirect discrimination is where the effect of certain requirements, conditions or practices imposed or used by an employer has an adverse impact disproportionately on other groups.

Many employers believe that, as older students have equal access to university education, the milk round is not a discriminatory practice.

However, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that only 13.2 per cent of undergraduate qualifiers in 2003 were aged 40 years and over.

Ann Swain, chief executive of ATSCo, said: “The majority of new graduates are in their early 20s, so the annual graduate milk round may fall under the category of indirect discrimination.

“While ATSCo is fully in favour of banning age discrimination, we are concerned at some of the practical consequences these laws may have and will be seeking clarification from the Government on the issue of graduate recruitment.”

“There are few careers where employers will legitimately be able to use age as an employment criterion, thereby avoiding the new laws,” she said.

“If employers cannot objectively justify why they need to recruit directly from universities, then it could be illegal for them to do so.”
Graduate recruitment programmes, even where employers do not recruit directly from university campuses, may also fall foul of the new laws says ATSCo.

Some lawyers even suggest that employers may need to avoid referring to “young” graduates, or using terms such as “vibrant” or “energetic” in their advertisements, which may be construed as denoting youth.

“A lot of blue chip companies rely on recruiting young graduates to meet a significant proportion of their annual staff intake.

If the milk round is abolished and alternative recruitment strategies are not in place, employers could face problems getting the staff they need,” said Swain.

If the milk round ceases to be a legitimate recruitment practice, the cost to companies of recruiting staff could increase, warned Swain.

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