In Support of Older Workers

On July 25 Lee Miller wrote in The Star Ledger an article titled, “Older employees an asset to firms.”  The title speaks for itself.

I just finished reading the October 2010 issue of National Geographic.  Its lead story, in fact half the magazine, is devoted to the Gulf oil spill (thus the photo accompanying this post).

When discussing the mistakes BP made prior to the catastrophe – and there were many – Joel K. Bourne, Jr., author of the lead article “The Deep Dilemma,” writes,

The roots of those decisions lie in BP’s corporate history, says Robert Bea, a University of California, Berkeley expert in both technological disasters and offshore engineering.  BP hired Bea in 2001 for advice on problems it faced after it took over the U.S. oil companies Amoco and ARCO.  One problem, Bea says, was a loss of core competence: After the merger BP forced thousands of older, experienced oil field workers into early retirement.  That decision, which made the company more dependent on contractors for engineering expertise, was a key ingredient for BP’s “recipe for disaster,” Bea says.  Only a few of the 126 crew members on the Deepwater Horizon worked directly for BP.

If you are an older worker looking for a new job, and worried about competing with younger candidates, this might be a quote you should memorize!

Some time ago I had a non-profit client.  A good organization with a great mission.  They had done remarkable things in their short five year existence.  They were looking for a seasoned fundraiser.  They needed someone with the experience to “get them to the next level.”  The oldest employee, the founder, was 33.  Everyone else, including the person who would be supervising the fundraiser, was in their twenties.  I had a number of interested candidates.  But, among other things, the organization’s process was very slow.  As time passed candidates began delving a little deeper into the organization’s history and specifically their staff backgrounds.  Finally, candidates began withdrawing their candidacies.  When I asked why, they all said the same thing, the process showed a lack of decision making abilities and, and here’s the kicker, the woman who would be supervising them had been promoted from within and had never had a job outside of the organization.  That was true.  She had started as an intern and worked her way up.  It impressed me; it scared them.

The lesson: Employers need experienced candidates, and candidates need to know that they will be working with experienced colleagues.  Two great reasons why hiring older workers is a plus.  (On second thought, maybe that’s all you need to memorize!)