Chapter 4: A Futile Chore
Footnote: Ageism: A Barrier To Employment
The employment market perceives the older professional as undesirable. His knowledge is perceived to be outdated. The breadth of his experience is thought to 'dilute' his specialist expertise. His mature disposition makes him a perceived career threat to younger ensconced 'superiors'.
I am told by ex-personnel managers, and have seen it widely restated in the industry press, that personnel departments have to deal with far more applications for jobs than is manageable. They therefore get junior staff in the personnel department to filter through applicants' CVs advancing the date-of-birth forward until the pile of CVs is of a manageable size. In the computer industry, this process currently (circa 1994) locks out of the job market anybody over the age of 36.
The only way anybody my age can change jobs or get a job if they do not have one is to know personally (ie 'go back a long way together with') the decision-maker who is in the position to offer a job. Such jobs are not advertised. I do not know or 'go back a long way' with anybody since all my contemporaries had the good sense to leave the U.K. when they were still young enough to do so.
Older people are unconditionally assumed to have out-of-date knowledge. Only the young are credited with being equipped by the degree or college course they have recently completed to be able to use and apply the latest methods and techniques. What those making this judgement fail to ask themselves is where these latest methods and techniques came from. Who discovered them? Who invented them? Who developed them? It does not require much thought to conclude that they were not discovered growing on trees or buried in the ground somewhere. They are the result of long and painstaking effort by those who were working in the industry before the latest rash of graduates left primary school.
Many of the methods and techniques which are known by firm names and coined phrases have been known and used by the older members of the industry for many years. In fact, far from leaving me behind, technical progress within the IT industry to me seems painfully slow. As far as standardising advanced methods and techniques is concerned, it is not yet even half-way down my personal wish-list. The same goes for hardware development. The notion that new graduates are somehow far ahead of those who have been in the industry for years is plainly stupid.
'Dilution' of Experience
Over the past 10 years, I have sent mailshots to a large number of employment and contract agencies with a view to assessing my options for any kind of work in Information Technology in any area of the country working either freelance, contract, on retainer or permanent, home-based or otherwise. I have received little response, and only 2 interviews (via agencies). I decided to follow up the rejections and where possible I quizzed those concerned to try to find out why. The answer proved to be directly or indirectly related to age.
One particular example stands out as typical. The agency said that they were looking for people with at least 5 years experience in 'real-time' systems. I have about 15. When I pointed this out, the person at the agency said "yes, but you have done other things". I said "yes, but how or why does that matter?" They answered "well this makes you appear to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and tends to dilute the quality of your experience in 'real-time' systems." I said that if anything, my experience in other areas tended to reinforce my 'real-time' systems experience through the cross-pollination of ideas and techniques from other disciplines. They replied "perhaps, but that is not the way our clients see it, and we have to go by what the market wants".
The upshot was that nobody who actually had sight of my CV was remotely qualified to assess it on a technical or any other basis: all they could do was scan it for buzz-words which they were told to look for. (I try to avoid such things.) Again, uninformed and ignorant decision-makers.
The notion that somebody's experience in one area of application becomes 'diluted' by their experience in another is to me completely inane. Yet this notion is typical of these individuals who find themselves in decision-making positions at too young an age. Their judgements about the abilities and aptitudes of older and far more experienced people are necessarily unqualified. Not surprisingly, therefore, they are invariably wrong.
If while still in my 30s I had possessed experience in as many areas as I do now, I would indeed have been somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. However, with over 30 years in the industry I have had time to become expert in all these areas. But this is something which a young agency operative or line manager is simply not equipped to be able to see because they have never been there. Yet they are the ones whom blind free-market forces have catapulted inappropriately into positions which give them ultimate control over whom shall be and whom shall not be employed. Research done by a fellow suffer of long-term unemployment found that many of the agency staff who make the exclusive decisions over whether or not a highly qualified and experienced candidate shall or shall not be put forward for a job are actually in their early twenties!
A Threat to The Young
Older subordinates are a threat to younger superiors. Consequently an older person like myself is viewed by a younger middle manager as a personal career threat. The result is that a good prospective employee becomes rejected not because of inadequate qualification or obsolete experience, but because of over-qualification and too much experience.
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©May 1998 Robert John Morton