Expertise Trumps Age: Experience is a Valuable Commodity

CPC Career Team

By Sharon Graham.

Age is relative and the definition of an “older worker” is expanding. The labour market is dramatically shifting into a new phase, with the percentage of Canadians in the workplace who are over 50 doubling every decade. Older workers are quickly becoming a valuable commodity in a market that needs the expertise.

Ageism is an issue we have dealt with over the years. Older workers have experienced deep-rooted societal and cultural discrimination. However, as our pool of experienced professionals starts to dwindle, we should consider the laws of supply and demand.

Consider the older worker as a product and the employer as the purchaser of that product. In the past, older job seekers reported that employers seemed discriminatory, in that they appeared to favour younger candidates over more mature ones. But this is all changing.

There are two key forces in action that are shifting employers’ perception of older candidates:

  1. The supply of experienced workers is decreasing. As boomers retire from the workforce in greater numbers, we are creating a talent drain within our labour market.
  2. The demand for experience in the labour market is increasing. The talent drain is creating an unprecedented need for people who have applied knowledge and expertise.

As the pool of knowledgeable workers is dwindling, people who are skilled and qualified through actual work experience are quickly becoming indispensable. According to a labour force projection study published by Statistics Canada’s Canadian Economic Observer, although many baby boomers will retire from the workforce by the year 2021, we can expect the proportion of people in the labour force who are 55 and older to double what it was during the mid-1990’s, to up to 20% of the workforce. This dramatic increase will predicate the future potential of this key demographic within the Canadian job market.

As employers realize the greater need for older workers, they are working hard to find new ways to address gaps in their own business requirements. Deloitte’s 2013 Human Capital Trends Survey of 1,300 senior business leaders globally reveals that companies are in danger of losing their “best and brightest.” Looking specifically at Canada, the war to develop talent is on the rise. This is because one third of Canadian employers can’t find skilled workers.

This phenomenon has been growing in force for a number of years. In an earlier study, Deloitte performed a survey of more than one hundred human resource executives across Canada and found that most companies were having a tough time dealing with the retirement of highly experienced professionals. Many executives reported critical shortages in key areas within the organization. As a result, for most of these companies, hiring and retention of key people was becoming an issue that needed to be addressed.

The laws of supply and demand tell us that if there is a shortage of highly experienced employees, then a mature candidate is worth more to employers than less experienced workers. Older workers are now heading from a buyer’s market into a seller’s market where they maintain quite a bit of power. The excess of demand over supply in the coming years will work in their favour.

These laws of supply and demand naturally put older workers in a better position to negotiate employment terms, compensation, and benefits. They offer an excellent return on an employer’s investment. By hiring an experienced professional, employers will decrease the costs associated with recruitment, training, and turnaround. Plus, the employee will be able to create almost immediate results in increased productivity and profitability because he or she knows the job so well.

Tip Sheet to Combat Ageism

If you are an older job seeker, employers want to hire you because you offer many qualities that younger workers cannot offer. There is great value that comes from maturity. You have much to offer the current Canadian marketplace:

  1. Experience from a lifetime that a younger worker simply cannot possess. You have successfully overcome many hurdles in business that beginners have yet to encounter. When responding to questions, give the interviewer strong examples that come from your vast body of experience.
  2. Adaptability that can only come from the transitions that people go through in their career. You have seen business go through many changes, and you have successfully adapted to them. Describe to employers how you have handled changes that have occurred during your career.
  3. Expertise that comes from a deeper understanding of your job and industry. You know how your job can be done efficiently. Show by example how you can incorporate the things that you have learned to benefit your new employer.
  4. Professionalism to present a favourable first impression. Dress in a current and upscale way that is appropriate to your age. Think progressive and classy when you select your interview attire. Don’t make the mistake of trying to look like someone much younger than you are. If you do, you are missing the point entirely. You risk the employer thinking that you are a desperate “has been.”
  5. Maturity to deal effectively with tough business issues. Employers value the emotional stability you bring. You have gone through many life experiences that younger people just have not had the time to learn to handle effectively. You can take things in stride and focus on getting the job done. Don’t underestimate how valuable this is to the employer.
  6. Leadership to mentor other employees and set a good example. You know how to listen and when to communicate. Remind your recruiter that as a mature professional, you don’t focus on frivolous gossiping and backstabbing. Instead, you create a work environment that is conducive to teamwork and results.
  7. Integrity that is displayed through your honesty and values. In a world that puts more emphasis on getting ahead than on being truthful, you can stand apart from the rest. If you are a highly ethical professional, you must let the employer know. And, if pride in a job well done is more important to you than just looking for the next move up the ladder, then express this.
  8. Dedication and understanding of the importance of reliability. When talking with employers, explain your intention to dedicate yourself fully to your next employer. As a mature worker, you might be more likely to stay later to get the job done, have better attendance, and be more punctual than younger workers. If this is true, then focus on your strong work record.
  9. Commitment to stay in the job and maintain loyalty to your employer. Employers may be concerned that you anticipate retiring soon when in fact, younger people in particular tend to leave jobs for new opportunities more often than older workers. If you are not planning to leave any time soon, remind your potential employer. Show that you are proactive and think ahead by discussing what you can do in the longer term for the company.
  10. Vitality that comes from loving the career enough to stay in it for the long run. It is likely that you offer many things that dispel pre-conceived notions about age. If you are in better shape than many others, express how you can effectively complete the physical work involved. Empower yourself with your optimistic and upbeat outlook, and you will find people are more likely to pay attention to your qualifications than your age. Smile during your interview. Studies show that smiling builds rapport by making you look pleasant, younger, and full of life.

Source: Career Professionals of Canada

Employers are working hard to find new ways to find and retain older workers. This makes them a valuable commodity with a powerful voice. Organizations will listen and create appropriate jobs to take advantage of the amazing value that comes from experience, maturity, and expertise. This will not only fill a gap in the current and future workplace, but will also give us all a richer and more diverse workforce.

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Dear Sharon,

I am perplexed. When have employers recently searched for older workers? The truth be known they have forced many 55- plus, long serving employees out of work, through bogus layoffs, forced retirement, or firings due to older workers’ injuries over the years because of the insurance/benefits liabilities associated with workers that are “broken”.
I have been unemployed well over a year and I am an injured, 56 year old. My offers have been meager, to say the least. And I now work for minimum wage at Home Depot to SURVIVE.

Dear Sharon

It is not happening for me or my friend to get hired. My friend was told at 2 job interviews that they will not hire as workers compensation does not cover you over 68. I have recently called Workers Compensation and they said that is not true. I have been at so many interviews with no luck and I have been doing office work and bookkeeping for 50 years I do not look my age but they know that I am an older person so they do not seem to want me even with all my experience. I do not say how old I am but they know I am an older person. So with all my experience they are not hiring me. I have been trying for 2 years so it might work in later years but it is not happening now. I like doing what I do so you explain to me why they are not interested in my experience. There is one person that has a job and he told me that the young people were he works does not want anything to do with him as he is older so he just does his job. My friend thinks it is because the young cannot understand why an older person wants to work when he gets pension. Well everything keeps going up and we still have to pay our bills and the pension is not enough today. The young will find that out when they get older and will have the same problem.

Steve and Jackie. You both superbly articulated the concerns that older job seeker have today. I understand and empathize with your concerns. A recent research report by Revera show that ageism is widespread and tolerated in Canada:

We need to come together as a nation to live our values. As reported in my article, I believe that employers are finally getting the message. The shift in supply and demand will put huge pressure on companies to put better policies and procedures in place. As our population ages, we will see more activism in this area.

For now, the best help I can give you are in the Tip Sheet to Combat Ageism (above). Keep positive and know that Canadian career practitioners are working to change the labour market and its biases and improve opportunities for Canadian workers.

Last edited 2 years ago by Sharon Graham

Excellent article Sharon.

With all the stories about older workers being kicked to the curb, it’s heartening to hear that the tide is changing for older workers.

I’m curious to see how this will affect relationships between older and younger workers. Would they get along? Would younger workers have a harder time finding work and be resentful to older workers? Would older workers have entitlement issues?

I hope there is a place for all of us. The younger workers studied hard in school to get their foot in the door. Older workers worked long and hard during their careers. I hope we all get rewarded for all of our hard work and no generation gets ripped off.

I understand completely what Sharon has conveyed. Unfortunately, her views are not applicable to an economy which at saturated with skilled people regardless of ages. For example, Alberta has been hard hit by the economic downturn due to the drop in oil prices. The economic downturn released 100000’s skilled individuals into the workforce. Now the ratio of skilled individuals to available jobs is at a record high making it a “buyer’s market” for the employers. It doesn’t help to upgrade or even make career changes unless you are going to start your own business. There is just not enough jobs available to absorb the saturated flood of the unemployed skilled workforce. Employers have significantly downsized and termination skilled employees just to survive. If there are any signs of winning contracts, those employers would only hire the entry level staff to maintain a low overhead and hire only one skilled experienced person to train the entry level staff. The ideal mentor (Skilled/experienced, aged) to entry level staff ratio is generally 1 to 15. Hows that for cost reduction and reducing skilled staff. Why would any employer who is impacted by the economic turndown staff their business with 15 skilled/experienced/aged individual when they can hire 1 skilled/experience/aged individual to train their 15 entry level team?

So here I am, 35 years of engineering experiences, laid off for 18 months due to the down turn, expecting my skills and experiences to win me a position on the employer’s short list, but just to discover that the employer deems me as expensive and not immediate critical because it is more economical for them to hire several entry level engineers and mentor them for the next 12 months until a contract is signed/awarded.

Hows that for business strategy.

Holding, sorry to hear about your situation. With your extensive experience, one option might be to explore consulting. Another might be to open a small business for project management. If these are not alternatives for you, I would recommend that you consider some support in your career transition. It’s possible that by strengthening your value proposition and articulating your worth more clearly you will attract some of the top opportunities that you discuss. Also, if you are interested in being retained as a trainer you’ll need to present your value in an optimistic and proactive way. Employers love people who can create an organizational culture where positive attitude, work ethic, and expertise are the norm. Career Professionals of Canada does not directly provide career transition services, but many of our members have expertise that might be of interest to you: