If conventional wisdom still places considerable value on professional experience and maturity, age should not be much of an issue in the job market. This is why bringing the issue of age up during the job interview process or on the CV is frowned upon in the developed world. However in Nigeria, it appears that bringing up benign issues like age and state of origin are regarded as requisite in determining the candidate’s suitability.
A member from the diaspora seeking employment in Nigeria detailed her shock at being asked about her age (in particular), a long disregarded issue in the developed world. She was aghast about the panel’s fixation on her age when the job requirements actually called for deep subject matter experience.
Yes, in certain instances, age can be a barrier to entry in the workforce, depending on the job content but do employers in Nigeria ever consider when it should not be? Do Nigerian employers accurately match job opportunities with job requirements? Are they intimidated by the experience and knowledge offered by more mature workers? Maybe or maybe they sometimes do not give sufficient thought to where they are, where they want to go and how they would get there. Someone once mentioned that many Nigerians typically see the goods or services abroad and try to replicate it at home. However, they only go as far as copying the face and logo because enough consideration of the experience, discipline and precision that goes into these goods and services are forgotten.
Societies that have a solid set of institutional support and frameworks for managing business processes support the eradication of ageism, and until Nigeria develops its institutions and business frameworks sufficiently, it would be suicidal to sacrifice experience for youth.
It was recently revealed by the New York Times that dozens of companies use Facebook to eliminate older workers from job ads. However, this tends to occur in jobs that have a considerable interface with the youthful demographic, pop culture or futuristic technology. Jobs that run on the automated systems of institutional codification (commodities and exchange trading for instance) where economic considerations such as health care costs might be justifiable motivation for this attitude.
There are lots of studies that confirm that businesses ignore the experienced at their own peril. Mature employees are able to unlock their experiences, especially in risk management, transfer skills acquired over time and offer institutional stability because they are very loyal and dependable. It is clear that there are huge and vital benefits to the broader economy from employing mature workers.
According to a 2012 report by Deloitte Access Economics in Australia, an extra 3 percentage points of labour force participation among workers aged 55 and over would result in a $33 billion boost to Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—or around 1.6 per cent of national income. Similarly, a 2012 report by the Grattan Institute estimated that increasing the mature age (60-69 years) labour force participation rate by 7 per cent would raise GDP in 2022 by $25 billion in 2010 dollars, or 1.4 per cent.
With medical breakthroughs and emphasis on healthy living driving improved longevity, the folly in turning a blind legislative eye to the full economic participation of 50 year old and over will become more apparent when the cost of social services outstrip national productivity especially with people living longer and as the population grows. As many fifty year old plus are anxious about their long-term economic and financial independence, it makes sense to incentivize as many people to remain productive to society in order to improve the benefits of their contributions to the tax base, the larger economy and self.
The starting point in Nigeria should be to enact laws that protect employment for experienced Nigerians and to device practical ways of enforcing them, knowing that even with the best of intentions, there will be tendencies to circumvent laws.
In spite of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 in the United States, which prohibits bias against people 40 or older, some employers still try to use technology to circumvent barriers to age discrimination, through specially targeted job adverts. With technology, the divide between job seekers over fifty and the millennial generation has grown wider as job adverts can now be targeted towards a particular demographic in various ways by employing social media.
For example, a company placed an ad to recruit applicants for a unit focused on financial planning and analysis, which was set to run on the Facebook feed of users 25 to 36 years old. What this means is that over fifties who are interested in keeping up with the job market, are automatically excluded and oblivious of opportunities that they are able to apply for.
The Labor Act, which is the primary legislation governing employment relations in Nigeria, has within it specific provisions for the protection of wages of all employees regardless of age, sex, religion or political beliefs. However these provisions are non justiciable and does not serve as a deterrent to discrimination by employers.
It is therefore imperative that a multi pronged approach through constant advocacy that aims at refining social values, employer attitudes, pushing for legislative support, and enhancing self-awareness towards recognizing ageism will go a long way towards expunging ageism in the employment market.