Can we de-age bias the hiring process using data better?

David Bernard of AssessFirst talks about the need to ensure hiring practices are not biased against older workers by ensuring decisions are based on data and focus on the skills and qualities that truly matter.

Middle-aged women in an interview


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There has been increased focus on ageism in the recruitment process in recent years. Coupled with older workers leaving the labour market as a result of the Covid pandemic and labour market shortages, policymakers and others have been looking at how to reduce ageism and both attract back and retain older workers. In this article David Bernard, founder and CEO of behavioural assessment firm AssessFirst, discusses ageism within recruitment practices, sharing valuable insights into the negative impact it is likely to have on the market if we don’t make necessary changes.

The issues with recruitment in the UK

Hiring managers’ bias towards employing older individuals has been known to be one of the main causes of ageism within recruitment, and with only 24% of HR leaders between the ages of 25 and 30 saying they feel motivated to recruit workers in the 55 to 75 age category, younger generations’ preconceptions seem to be one of the main problems.

The new generations’ bias is causing them to miss out on the plethora of benefits that working hand-in-hand with people of different ages can have, but is also contributing to existing issues within the recruitment industry.

The recruitment crisis is rampant in the UK, as the number of unfilled positions has risen to a new record of 1,300,000 between March and May 2022, up from 1.295,000 in the February and April quarter.

And retention is a problem too, with figures revealing that around 994,000 individuals moved jobs between January and March 2022 in the UK. This shows that businesses are not putting enough effort into retaining their workforce, making them feel valued and presenting them with a path for future progression.

Additionally, if we are only willing to offer employment to the younger generations, older age groups will naturally feel there are no longer any opportunities available to them, opting for early retirement instead, which is likely to cause the recruitment crisis to become worse in the next few years.

Why are current recruitment practices not working?

The implications of ageist hiring practices are multi-faceted, but their effects have undoubtedly been felt by many jobseekers within older age groups.

A research project investigating ageism in recruitment in the UK revealed that around 30% of individuals between the ages of 50 and 69 felt the application process itself put them at a disadvantage because of their age, while around 23% of those who participated said that it is the way that job adverts are written and marketed that is particularly problematic.

These findings provide interesting food for thought for recruiters: biased screening processes and job descriptions could easily put off certain individuals from applying for a job, causing businesses to lose a potentially perfect candidate. For instance, hiring processes that are entirely digital or that require the use of technology that older individuals may not be familiar with would naturally penalise older applicants.

Evaluating the efficacy of their recruitment practices should be the first step for hiring managers and talent acquisition teams, particularly establishing whether these include any elements or processes that would ostracise certain individuals.

What’s the answer?

If an organisation has built teams predominantly comprising younger individuals, they should consider asking themselves whether they have – consciously or subconsciously – avoided hiring those within older age groups, and why.

While having three or four different generations within the workplace may potentially lead to some minor generational clashes, it also has the potential to be beneficial for all age groups, which is why businesses should empower individuals of different ages to work together.

This should involve utilising behavioural science to identify key traits in individuals to establish whether they will be able to work well together, regardless of age. Knowing exactly how workers collaborate with other individuals, manage stress or react to change are all factors that can help hiring managers make the right decisions and avoid age bias.

Hiring managers should first and foremost establish what individuals’ abilities are, how they behave in different situations and what sets that behaviour in motion. There are different ways to do this, for instance, AssessFirst’s Talent Mapper groups individuals onto behavioural maps based on these principles, giving them an accurate prediction of how they will work together.

While there is no one answer for every business, our focus should be on making hiring practices as inclusive as possible, which starts with making decisions based on data and focusing on the skills and qualities that truly matter.

Ultimately, biased hiring practices are exacerbating the labour shortage and causing businesses to miss out on a huge portion of talented workers capable of really making a difference.

Comments [1]

  • Susan Fryer says:

    The biggest issue is the online application process – I am now 58 and I have spent over 35 years within the Landscape/horticulture industry. The online forms struggle to accommodate a lengthy career and different roles. If you are trying to mask how old you are it is impossible when putting down roles in chronological order – it is much better to be able to add a CV.

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