Over 55? This company wants to give you an internship

HRD investigates how one organisation is addressing ageism in the workplace

Over 55? This company wants to give you an internship

Fans of Robert De Niro will no doubt be familiar with the film The Intern.

The plot centres around 70-year old Ben Whittaker (De Niro) who realises he is not cut out for retirement and applies to become a senior intern at an online fashion site. Despite initial scepticism over his ability to fit in, Whittaker excels in the role and becomes popular with his co-workers, including the CEO Jules Ostin (Hathaway).

It might sound like something only Hollywood could conjure up, but one organisation in Australia is offering a similar opportunity for people over the age of 55.

Creative agency Thinkerbell recently announced an eight-week paid internship to address the growing age gap in the majority of companies operating in advertising.

Emma O'Leary, Agency C.O.P (culture, operations & people), Thinkerbell, told HRD that older Australians are “massively underrepresented in the advertising industry”.

O'Leary cited research that just five percent of ad agency employees globally are over 50, with the median age for employees sitting at 38.

"We hope by launching [email protected], we can do our bit to address the ageism issue faced by our older generation in the advertising industry. We also want to help spark authentic action in other industries,” said O'Leary.

"We know that there is a wealth of talent, knowledge and life experience that our older generation brings."

Specifically, the company is looking for people over 55 who can bring their experience to the agency, across creative, account management, office management, finance, media, digital services, illustration, strategy and photography.

“You could be a retired hotel concierge that’s interested in running our front of house, a detective who wants to do some insights work, or a newspaper cartoonist who’s looking for the next creative challenge,” said O’Leary.

“We don’t mind where your experience comes from, as long as you think you have something to give to our industry”.

Read more: Ageism: Which gender has it worse?

O'Leary added that there have always been ageism issues in the advertising industry, long before COVID-19.

A 2018 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that almost one third of Australian employers are reluctant to hire job applicants beyond a certain age.

For seven in 10 companies, the cut-off age for candidates is 50 – even though setting an age limit on job applicants is against the law in Australia.

“This year has been challenging for so many, both in and out of the workforce,” said O’Leary.

“COVID-19 hasn't discriminated, with many people of all ages losing jobs. So, you combine that with an ageism issue, and I'm sure the older generation are finding it even tougher than usual to find employment.

"The response so far has shown that there is absolutely an appetite to talk about and address ageism."

Lisa Annese, CEO of the Diversity Council of Australia, told HRD that offering a paid internship for people over 55 is a “brilliant idea”.

“It sounds like a great way to get senior Australians to reengage with employers – especially those who have been outside the labour market for a while,” said Annese.

“It’s really great in terms of improving people’s confidence, providing it’s not exploitative and it’s providing meaningful work.”

“I am little bit mistrustful of the concept of some internships that are unpaid because they can be quite exploitative of labour.”

Read more: Why is ageism still rampant in Australia?

Annese said that in terms of supporting diversity and inclusion, organisations must approach it through a lens of how different identities overlap.

“One of the dangers of treating women as one homogenous group is that they are not. I think there are different sorts of barriers to women at different ages,” said Annese.

“In order to address issues around gender diversity appropriately, you need to consider age and life stage because that’s a significant factor in how exclusion plays out in workplaces and barriers can be very age specific.”

Agreeing that the initiative sounds promising, Linda Carroll, Head of People & Culture at Affinity Education told HRD that her experience has led her to believe that age bias is a significant issue within the Australian workforce.

“Going back to earlier in my career when I worked as a recruiter in external recruitment, I think that anything that can help break down bias is going to be of benefit,” said Carroll.

“I think that some younger employees can feel threatened by older workers and see senior staff as being set in their ways and unrelatable.

“So, having that opportunity to have an intern who is 55 or older in the workplace is a great way for everybody to understand that senior Australians bring a lot to the table. They bring a lot of life experience and work experience.”

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