AHRI in media cross hairs on age discrimination

by 30 Aug 2012

Malcolm King writes that the HR profession will face ‘brand death by media’ if it does not fix its recalcitrant attitude to the recruitment of older workers.

The Australian media has become far more adversarial and conflict-based in the hunt for stories. Their sights are turning to recruiters and senior HR staff who have shown only tokenism on age discrimination.

These are the same people who want to sit at the ‘big table’ with the executives and make strategic business decisions. Senior HR professionals will soon get their chance of working ‘strategically’ on rescuing their brand from the nightmare of a sustained media attack if their intransigence continues.

Over the last three months there have been two major current affairs exposes on age discrimination and numerous articles connecting older worker retention and employment with maintaining national productivity.

If HR managers can’t implement a clear and unambiguous demand from the Australian people and Federal politicians to employ older workers on merit, what hope do they have of becoming leaders?

Few HR practitioners collect and analyse data on workers age profiles, education and skills range or even retirement intentions. So how can they honestly provide researched information on corporate strategic direction - let alone labour supply projections - without understanding the benefits of experience and who has it?

Some time ago I sat in a conference where members of the AHRI presented a plan to promote the benefits of older workers throughout the industry. They were going to ‘enforce’ the AHRI code of conduct, which prohibits making selections based on gender, religion, age, etc.

Noble stuff for a code – but we’ve heard it all before. It’s time for action.

While I work in the area of demographic workplace reform, I still wear the hat of a senior PR consultant. The industry will face ‘brand death by media’ if it does not fix its recalcitrant attitude to the recruitment of older workers.

Recruiters won’t hire older clients because they fear the client’s wrath. This does not sit well on the CV of HR managers who want to sit at the ‘big table’. From the vantage point of the people in the cheap seats, it looks like cowardice.

The average unemployment duration for mature age job seekers is 73 weeks compared to 36 weeks for all job seekers. If you’re over 55 it will take you a year of searching to land a job. Why? Age prejudice.

If we did not have 5.7 million politically savvy boomers living amongst us (and two million of those are still working) with 90,000 mature age job seekers - 38,000 of these being the very long term unemployed - I’d say the HR industry could probably ‘do an ostrich’ and wait for the coast to clear.

But not with the boomer demographic. They occupy positions of power all over the country. They run the media and they possess enough votes to roll the Government three times over. They are just looking for a cause to fight or possibly a fight to cause. In this, they will gain national media support.

You might have noticed of late that a couple of the mature age job boards have used TV current affair stories to promote their brands. The reporters have gone further and claimed that some recruiters are traducing the dignity of older applicants.

More than one million Australians watch A Current Affair or Today Tonight. There are stories all over the media about why we need to employ older workers – but the real reason from the Government’s point of view, is to increase workplace productivity and defray pension and healthcare outlays.

As the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians said, “Reducing discrimination against older workers is an imperative, as businesses complain of a skills shortage and mature age workers outnumber those entering the workforce”.

When I worked in Canberra in DEEWR, a part of my job was to respond to the avalanche of letters from constituents who complained about recruiter age discrimination. These were letters written to the offices of Kate Ellis, the Minister of Employment Participation and Bill Shorten, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.

A few just wanted to vent their frustration but most had mounted compelling cases of recruiter age discrimination. They had collected evidence. Some had corroborated their story with a third party.

I told them to contact the Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, but more than a few had already sought legal advice from companies such as Slater & Gordon and Minter Ellison.

There will come a time in the not too far distant future when a successful age discrimination case hits the papers and it will all on for young and old. Literally. The media will want to talk to the CEOs of Australia’s largest recruitment agencies and they will cop a pasting.

The best way that HR managers can protect their brands is to hire older workers on merit. This demonstrates that the sector is serious about supporting the Government’s push to increase national productivity and defeat age prejudice.

It will take courage. But that’s what you need to sit at the ‘big table’.


About the author 

Malcolm King works in the area of generational workforce change. He was an associate director in the DEEWR Mature Age Programs in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide.


  • by Yvonne Walker 31/08/2012 9:33:46 PM

    Great article, thank you.
    I agree that it's not enough to take the moral high road about discrimination - HR professionals need to be able to present facts and figures to the decision makers. I downloaded some census demographics in recent times to show a client organisation that in seeking to employ younger workers they were actually narrowing the candidate pool significantly - which doesn't make good business sense.

  • by Heidi Holmes 3/09/2012 8:28:39 PM

    I own adage.com.au, a leading job board for mature workers and while we are seeing an increasing interest from employers, actual recruitment companies still lag behind in proactively recruiting from this talent pool.

  • by Malcolm King 4/09/2012 11:25:27 AM

    I've worked globally in HR for 30 years and now am a CEO. This article is one of the most perceptive I've read re brand and media threat. One key way to protect brand and to reduce prejudice in selection is to run mandatory in-house education programs. I note A Current Affair ran another story last week. I presume this is Malcolm King who ran the national Learn more/earn more campaign.