Season of the Seasoned: How Courting Age and Experience Can Be an MSP’s Secret Weapon

October 27, 2015

ZT-ageism.jpgDiversity matters, in all its varied splendor

We talk about diversity a great deal in our posts. There’s a good reason for that. Diversity matters. Diverse perspectives and unique cultural insights fuel innovation, collaboration, thought leadership and even business development. Talent who fall outside a majority group are more apt to drive sales and marketing campaigns that appeal to customers with similar backgrounds. These same advocates also prove instrumental in developing compelling employment brands that attract a wider breadth of skilled candidates. As we in the staffing industry know, encouraging diversity leads to solid rewards — interpersonal and financial.

The arrival of the Millennials on the shores of employment has ushered in a new age of diversity, across a larger set of categories. In times past, we used to think of diversity in terms of race and gender. Now, we’ve expanded our focus to incorporate gender identity, military status, sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion into the conversation. It’s not a numbers game. It’s a winning recruitment strategy that strengthens our economy, our performance, our offerings and our humanity.

Millennials tend to embrace differences. And because of that, they’re more open themselves. However, Mercer’s recent Age-Friendly Employer report finds that inclusion policies stop short of older workers. In fact, the overwhelming majority of respondents, at 87 percent, don’t measure hiring manager practices when it comes to mature talent. Of the 13 percent who do, about half discovered that managers don’t actively hire workers older than themselves. Experienced talent have skills, expertise and wisdom that greatly benefit younger colleagues. Discounting their contributions is no different than neglecting the capabilities of minorities or transgender persons. Fortunately, MSPs and their staffing partners can help clients overcome these challenges to build the most robust workforces imaginable.

The age of ageism?
It’s interesting to observe that Hollywood has taken note of the issue. In 2013, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson appeared in the comedy “The Internship,” which chronicles the attempts of two recently unemployed and older sales professionals to remake their careers in the tech industry. Despite failing at several contests easily won by their younger, technologically savvy peers, Vaughn and Wilson ultimately prevail and receive jobs at Google. Why? Because their tenure in sales, marketing, customer care and business development gives them vital skills beyond the experience of the competing Millennials. This year, Robert De Niro takes a familiar stab at the same topic in his film “The Intern.”

The term “ageism” was coined by Pulitzer Prize-winning gerontologist Robert Neil Butler in 1969. In the workplace, the concept didn’t become as prevalent and publicized until 2006, when several companies lost multi-million dollar court cases related to age-based discrimination. At the dawn of the Great Recession, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), ageism spiked. In 2014, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission recorded 21,396 claims.

“In a survey of more than 1,502 older adults, about 64 percent say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Of those, 92 percent say it is very or somewhat common,” according to the AARP report “Staying Ahead of the Curve.

Focusing on older workers is still focusing on the future of business
One in five workers is aged 55 or older. By 2050, the number of people over 65 will triple worldwide. About 84 percent of the companies polled by Mercer confessed that they lacked effective processes and behaviors in regard to mature talent.  In his book “Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack,” Nigel Dessau emphasizes the importance of mature workers’ contributions to a much younger population of talent: “We make assumptions that older employees may be less flexible and less willing to adapt. The opportunity is not to look at the skills they don’t have but to look at the skills and experience they do have. Those may be valuable to your teams.”

Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of Business, authored the 2010 book “Managing the Older Worker.” In it, he explained how older talent “soundly trash” their younger counterparts when it comes to actual job performance:  “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age… I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.”

Older workers offer finely honed abilities, perspectives, patience, experience with nearly every business situation, and they’re less likely to hop jobs than Millennials.

How MSPs and staffing curators can help
Contingent work is ideal for mature talent because it supports the independence and flexibility they’re seeking; they still long to participate and contribute, yet they also want more control over their schedules. That should not imply, however, that older workers lack the vitality, dedication and capabilities of their younger colleagues. Last September, HR thought leader Tim Sackett pointed out the many benefits of what he called “the gray wave.” Which qualities continue to make older talent valuable and relevant?  According to Sackett:

  • They don’t have kids pulling them constantly off their game.
  • While possibly not as tech savvy, they have experience in getting things done in different ways and they won’t panic when the internet goes down for 15 minutes.
  • They grew up in a time when work life balance meant you worked until the job was done.
  • They’re willing to be loyal to you for the next 7-10 years, which is more loyalty than you’ll get from anyone else you hire.
  • We all miss work for stuff. Older workers statistically don’t miss work more than younger workers.

Let’s look at the ways MSPs and their staffing partners can bring all the advantages of experienced talent to a client program.

Forecasting and organizational assessment

Understanding the state of one’s workforce is critical in any context. During discovery and implementation, MSPs often serve as workforce consultants who help clients understand their current and future state goals more clearly. This insight can be an excellent predictor of when older talent may be preparing to exit, and where more mature workers can help fill crucial gaps.

  • The existing program data MSPs collect can better identify which workers could be retiring, and then illustrate the impacts to the organization. If these professionals are taking indispensable knowledge and domain experience with them, an MSP can target eligible and equally tenured talent to replace them.
  • MSPs will be better positioned to help clients address the challenges of skills shortages arising from this type of attrition.
  • MSPs coordinate with their staffing partners to create a work environment and recruiting strategies that attract qualified workers based on qualifications, skills and potential rather than age.
  • MSPs and their staffing partners have unparalleled expertise in managing the varied needs of diverse, multi-cultural workforces. This experience translates easily into supporting multigenerational talent as well, particularly where benefits and accommodations come into play.
  • MSPs are adept at designing employer brands that attract and retain top talent across all labor and diversity categories. Their strategies concentrate on merit rather than superficial attributes.

Enhanced and targeted recruiting
Through the vast resources of their staffing partners, MSPs enjoy a level of access to the best candidates on the market that trumps the limitations corporate recruiters face. They have also perfected non-traditional recruitment strategies to source talent from all walks of life, vocational experiences, industries and skill sets.

  • Elite staffing curators tap into alumni networks, recommendations from professional associations, and referrals from niche groups that cater to mature talent.
  • Their recruiters join relevant industry groups and subscribe to targeted lists, directories and community organizations such as AARP.
  • More than a client’s internal recruitment team, staffing firms have a widely diverse bench of recruiting experts, including older professionals who can concentrate on networking-based strategies for workers similar to them: a combination of job boards, social media, online marketplaces, associations, professional directories, special interest groups and other sources relevant to mature talent.
  • Engagement affects an individual’s’ output, opportunities, development and competencies. Seasoned talent are no exception. MSPs and their staffing partners have the time hiring managers don’t. They’re better empowered to devote their efforts to supporting the accommodations, inclusion and logistical needs of mature talent.
  • Contingent labor programs facilitate flexible work situations and adapt job designs to meet the preferences and physical constraints of older workers.
  • More than bloated salaries, mature talent seek a stronger mix of benefits options and incentives, such as continuing education assistance, training for new skills, employee discounts and flexible hours. Most staffing professionals can offer benefits like these to workers. For MSPs, this can help create a more competitive rate structure by providing incentives over higher pay.
  • As leaders in maintaining labor compliance and diversity strategies for clients, MSPs understand and exhibit the virtues of treating all talent in a fair and consistent manner, relying on performance-based management processes that prevent discrimination.

Wisdom isn’t a skill that can be taught, yet it can be recruited
A truly diverse workforce cultivates creativity, productivity and innovation by bringing together talent from disparate backgrounds and experiences. It’s essential today to harness the power of workers from different cultures, genders, backgrounds, orientations, communities and age brackets. As an entire generation begins to depart from the employment landscape — bringing with them a vast repository of knowledge and experience — it’s imperative that we harness the power of these mentors and professionals to groom the future leaders of the workforce.


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