I was in my early twenties when I joined a career transition firm. Coming from the suburbs, I had a big town and a world of work to explore. My boss was co-owner of the company. I was starting my career, and he was writing the final chapter of a career that spanned more than four decades. This professional relationship had a great impact on my career. He was a superior, but also a guide and mentor.
His enthusiasm for his work was contagious. Customer satisfaction was his main concern. He worked tirelessly to ensure the prosperity of the business he had helped build with his son. He loved to share his knowledge and experience and to offer sound advice to those who asked for it.
I learned a lot from him: the importance of investing in your work, giving your best in everything you do, providing outstanding customer service and working hard while having fun. Working with him contributed to my professional development and helped me define my work ethic and values.
Throughout my career, I have sought answers to my many questions from mature, more experienced colleagues. I wanted to tap into their wells of knowledge to learn and improve.
If I had only seen gray hair and wrinkles on his face, I would not have seen everything this boss could bring me: a taste for work well done, knowledge of best practices, and the importance of teamwork. Most importantly, he taught me how essential it is to make a difference through our work. An ageist attitude would have deprived me not only of his knowledge but also of some wonderful interactions.
Ever Heard of Ageism?
Ageism is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the term was coined in 1969 by Robert Butler, an American gerontologist. Originally, ageism referred to discrimination towards older people. Today, it is used for all people who are victims of it, regardless of their age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.”
When we display prejudice or a discriminatory attitude towards older people, we forget an inescapable reality: no one stays young forever. The young worker of today will be the mature worker of tomorrow.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has eye-opening statistics on the ageing of the population:
“Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22% and by 2030, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or over.”
Do we have the luxury of depriving ourselves of the knowledge, skills and experience of so many people?
Looking Beyond Age as an Employer
As in the rest of society, today’s job market is undergoing major upheaval. Four different generations are currently co-existing in the workplace: baby boomers (1946-1964); generation X (1965-1980); millennials (1981-1996); and generation Z (1997-2005). A recent study conducted by Robert Half, titled Examining the multigenerational workforce, paints a portrait of the needs and motivations of four generations. Reading about the generations can give us insights about each group and what they can bring to the workplace.
Despite a labor shortage, many companies are still reluctant to hire mature workers. Yet, according to a Telus Health report published in July 2023, workers under 40 are 60 percent more likely than workers over 50 to be considering leaving their job. These workers are also twice as likely as workers over 50 to report having a job change in the last year.
Rather than assessing people’s value in terms of their age, wouldn’t it be better to realize what they can bring to the table? In the case of mature workers, we can mention: experience and expertise gained after being confronted with varied challenges and situations; professionalism; strong ethics; dedication; hard work; reliability; self-confidence, and so forth.
The Need to Remain Relevant
For older workers, the challenge lies in proving their value in the labor market and demonstrating stereotypes about them do not apply to everyone.
1. Keep your skills current. If you have a job, take advantage of opportunities offered by your employer to acquire new skills and refresh your knowledge.
If you are looking to re-enter the workforce, find out what skills employers are seeking in job postings and take refresher courses if necessary. If you subscribe to LinkedIn Premium, you also have access to thousands of LinkedIn Learning courses on a wide range of topics.
Update the education and certification sections of your resume and LinkedIn profile.
2. Stay informed of trends in your profession and industry. When was the last time you read an article about the latest changes in your field? Are you a member of a professional corporation or association? Do you attend their conferences, their training? Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence. Do you know its impact, if any, on your field?
3. Show your flexibility and adaptability. Be sure to mention in your resume and LinkedIn profile if you have worked with multidisciplinary and multicultural teams, coached or mentored younger colleagues.
As an experienced executive or professional, there are some steps that you can take to ensure that a potential employer is open to hiring a mature worker.
1. Check out the pictures used by the company on its website and in its marketing collateral. When researching a target company, look at how they present themselves on their website and in their marketing materials. If you only see young people, it raises some questions.
2. Decipher the job offers. If the company has included its diversity policy, does it refer to age? Are they using an informal tone, as if they were talking to young people? In job offers written in French, do they use “tu” instead of “vous”? If so, there is a good chance that the company is looking to recruit young candidates.
3. Talk to your contacts, employees (former or current) of target companies. Try to learn more about the company’s culture. Are they open to hiring older workers? Do they have a policy of diversity and equality of opportunity that includes age?
While these steps will not guarantee that a company does not have discriminatory practices, they will give you an idea of how welcoming the company culture is toward mature employees.
Throughout my career, I have been part of teams where there was a mix of ages. I worked with young people straight out of university, thirty-year-olds with a bright future, strong and reliable forty-year-olds and sixty-year-olds who still had the flame and the desire to pass on their knowledge to other generations. I consider myself privileged.
Companies that embrace an intergenerational workplace where wisdom meets innovation and experience combines with new perspectives are arming themselves with a strong strategic advantage. These companies don’t just build teams; they weave tapestries of talent across the ages, creating a richer organizational culture and a brighter future for all. As a 40+ worker, updating your skills and knowing your value will enable you to make potential employers forget about your age.
Since its foundation in 1990, La Passerelle, an employment help centre in Montreal, has helped thousands of mature workers re-enter the job market through its subsidized job search assistance program and career coaching. La Passerelle supports all efforts made to combat ageism because we firmly believe in equal opportunities and age diversity in the workplace.