Earlier this week The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned that a shortfall in the numbers of graduates with science and technology qualifications was creating a skills shortage and forcing employers to look overseas for suitable candidates. At the same time a growing number of older people are complaining that they have suffered the effects of age discrimination. It doesn’t take a genius to see the first problem could be solved by the employment of people suffering from the second.
Age discrimination is still rife, and unregulated against. However, a new law is set to be introduced in October, which may at least begin to tackle the problem. Although, older workers are those most commonly discriminated against, under 25s can also be affected, and it is not unusual for a recent school leaver or graduate to be told that whilst they may have relevant qualifications they lack experience and are therefore not worthy of employment. Older people who have both qualifications and experience are often turned down for different reasons. The more qualified and experienced a worker is, the more they can reasonably expect to be paid, business owners want to keep costs down, so prefer to employ someone less costly. I believe that this is partly the reason for the skills shortage the CBI have highlighted.
There may be fewer people studying science and technology subjects, but, there are still plenty of people with relevant skills who would be happy to make up any shortfall while a new generation can be trained. However, these people have years of experience, are often highly professional and respected, and are therefore worthy of a salary to match their experience and professional standing. It is cheaper to import people. If you are watching a profit margin, the choice is pretty simple, but it is a short-sighted one.
Cheaper overseas workers may fill a temporary gap, but this can’t be a long term solution. At a time when we are being told that we must work for longer, the idea that anyone over 45 is going to become steadily less and less employable is worrying. As a population we are living longer, we have children (who need supporting) later, it does not make economic sense to throw a whole generation on the scrap heap when they are still valuable and productive. These people will need to have some kind of financial support, many won’t have been working long enough to have built up a pension that is capable of providing for them adequately. So, they will turn to the benefits system, this will in turn lead to a rise in taxes which will cost business owners more.
Anti-age discrimination legislation is not going to change perceptions, or bring about any kind of improvement overnight but, hopefully it will have a positive effect over time, in the same way that laws to prohibit race and gender discrimination did not really achieve much in the short term, but did create a long term sea change in attitudes. This long overdue measure is both necessary and hugely important to us all. We will all get older, and like it or not, we are going to have to work for longer than our parents and grand-parents did. Unless we want to spend several decades of our lives living in relative poverty, we need to be confident that the judgements about our suitability to do our job are based on ability not the date on our birth certificate.