Workzone: Discriminatory job practices working against older workers

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It isn't easy to grow old gracefully. But for people 55 and older who want to continue in the work force, the realities of advancing age can be especially harsh.

Simply put, negative stereotypes about being less productive, having dated skills and being adverse to change stop many companies from hiring older workers. Employers also worry about higher health care costs and how long older workers will stay on the job.

"Age is a factor that has been working against older workers for a long, long time," said Sara Rix, strategic policy adviser for AARP, the advocacy group for seniors.

"Employers express concern about technological competence of older workers and their ability to learn, even though we know that the ability to learn even complicated new technologies continues well into old age."

It's illegal for companies to discriminate based on age, but it's a hard thing to fight.

"You don't know what is going through a manager's or employer's head as that person is reviewing resumes," Ms. Rix said.

Even though workers face age discrimination, Americans' traditional retirement age has been steadily moving up. In 1985, 18 percent of all 65- to 69-year-olds were still working. By 2005, that figure had risen to 29 percent, Ms. Rix said.

For older workers who aren't ready to hang up the lunch pail for good, experts offered some advice.

Assuming it will be easier to keep a good job than to find another one, older workers may want to concentrate on making themselves more valuable to their current employer to avoid getting the boot.

To show flexibility and adaptability, volunteer for new projects, Ms. Rix said.

When employees make the boss's life easier, "their value skyrockets," said Kathleen Brush, author and corporate management advisor. "If the boss needs help meeting a tight deadline, don't wait for him to ask for volunteers."

Older workers should resist the temptation to slack off, Ms. Brush said. And avoid being too negative.

"Employee malcontent infects the work environment and takes a bite out of everyone's productivity. That will make the boss miserable," she said. "Rule No. 1, never forget who signs your paycheck."

Older workers should be especially vigilant about keeping their skills fresh, experts said.

"I always recommend they take advantage of any employer-provided training offered," Ms. Rix said. "Older workers can prove they are capable and interested in learning new ways of doing things."

People set on leaving their current job should avoid walking away until they have a new one in hand, she said. "The longer you are unemployed, the harder it is to find a job, and older workers are more likely to be long-term unemployed."

For those deciding to move into a new field, it's a good idea to survey the local labor market to gauge demand. Changing careers later in life can be especially exciting and fulfilling.

"I remember a woman who had been a teacher and became a pilot for a small airline in Guam," Ms. Rix said.

Although many jobs today are advertised online, don't forget to take advantage of networking, she said.

"Who you know can still be a big help finding a job."

businessnews - yourbiz

For information on age discrimination, visit www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/age.cfm Patricia Sabatini: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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