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  • Konrad Turek

Trainability and recruitment of older workers

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

In an article published in May 2019 in a leading scientific journal “Work, Employment and Society”, together with Kène Henkens from the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, we investigated whether the low employability of older people results from age-based stereotypes regarding skills. Using extensive survey data representative of Polish employers (2010-2015; N=80,017), we assessed the influence of skill requirements on the likelihood of recruiting older workers. Employers seeking workers described the positions offered and their requirements, including skills and age requirements.

The study provides evidence that the chances of an older candidate being hired are strongly hindered in jobs requiring training skills. If a job required intensive training, the likelihood of recruiting a person aged 50 and over was 6.1 percentage points lower than if such skills were not required. These results stay in line with numerous previous studies which evidenced strong stereotypes, according to which the ability to learn and develop declines with age. We also know well that older people are offered fewer opportunities for employer-sponsored training. However, our study adds that employers are also less willing to recruit older candidates if a job requires training.

Beside training skills, the study found strong negative effects of age stereotypes regarding computer and creative skills. The results envision serious problems that older people may encounter in evolving labour markets. Combination of strong discriminatory effects in the mentioned dimensions suggests a general image of older workers who are unable to adjust to a modern economy which shows a critical increase in demand for digital competencies, creativity, innovation, and ability to learn. Consequences can be especially profound for countries such as Poland, which must use their human capital efficiently to develop economies able to compete with those of Western Europe. Neglecting the potential of the 50-plus population, when the old-age dependency ratio is projected to increase in Poland from 22.2% in 2010 to 37% in 2030, could hinder economic progress.

The results suggest that age stereotypes directly hinder the employability of older workers and block the utilisation of their potential. As many studies show, advancing age poses no strict and universal obstacle for acquiring and updating skills in new technologies. Also, the common negative stereotype that older workers are less creative is at odds with some published evidence. Most important, cognitive ageing does not affect learning abilities of 50 or 60-year-olds in a way that would reduce the efficiency of training. However, stereotypical views from employers on these matters might create barriers to employment and human capital investment. Moreover, employees’ willingness to enter training depends on self-confidence regarding learning skills, which can decline as a result of age stereotypes at work. This study supports the thesis that in some areas, contemporary labour markets are old-age-unfriendly and the potential of older staff is underestimated.

Turek, K., & Henkens, K. (2019). How Skill Requirements Affect the Likelihood of Recruitment of Older Workers in Poland: The Indirect Role of Age Stereotypes. Work, Employment and Society. is external)

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