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The Business Case for Hiring Experience Roundtable

In short, they concluded, it’s time to hit the refresh and rethink button so we can build stronger businesses, organizations and ultimately, a stronger Canada with the full contribution of Canadians 45 years plus.

By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco

One-third of companies in Canada are grappling with a skills shortage. Yet there are approximately five million people in the country aged 45 to 75 who are unemployed, underemployed or looking for an encore career—and this number is likely to keep growing as more and more corporations adopt a cost-saving policy of laying off workers once they hit their late 40s or early 50s. This demographic represents a rich pool of diverse talent, education, skills and experience—yet once unemployed many struggle to even get a job interview, let alone a job.

“Is there a skills mismatch, a skills gap or are we managing this whole thing badly?” asked Sue Barkman, ThirdQuarter’s president and CEO, last January 22nd in Toronto, when she lead The Business Case for Hiring Experience Roundtable discussion hosted by Ryerson University’s The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, ThirdQuarter and CARPWORKS.

By the end of the two-hour discussion, the multi-generational group of participants that included human resources and employment professionals as well as business leaders agreed the answer is we are managing things badly. Participants concluded stakeholders—from governmental agencies to Chambers of Commerce, businesses and organizations as well as educational institutions—all need to join forces to bring about urgently needed change.

Here are the roundtable’s key recommendations


1.0  Rethinking hiring methods

Frustration among workers across all age groups with online job applications has reached widespread proportions.

Most of the technology and systems being used are designed to filter out applicants who are not 100 percent match to a checklist that relies primarily on chronological resumes versus functional ones. This despite the fact that the latter are recognized as a more accurate reflection of an applicant’s soft skills, aptitude, character and successful contributions to former employees, as well as transferable skills. In doing so, the technology pigeonholes job seekers and robs companies of access to many experienced workers. The reality is that while people often think of technology as objective, unconscious biases, including ageism, are often built into programs.

While many companies and human resources professionals realize how important diversity in their workforce is to business success, there seems to be little appreciation that age-diversity is a critical part of this. In fact, the roundtable’s participants noted that unconscious bias—and sometimes outright age prejudice—isn’t restricted to the online recruiting software. It’s often common within the interview process.

All of this is likely enlarging and deepening the rift that is preventing employers from connecting with highly skilled and experienced workers.

The roundtable participants concluded the time has come for human resources professionals, associations, the institutions that train them and the companies that rely on them to rethink current hiring methods and use of technology. Government and Chambers of Commerce can lead by example, offering workshops for recruiters and HR professionals to help them develop new insights on their protocols and processes that bring back the “human” to human resources and filter out biases instead of qualified candidates.

2.0  An open discussion on age stereotypes and prejudices

“We need to get rid of the stereotypes, but we have to figure out first what the stereotypes and barriers are. Then we can get rid of them,” said Barkman.

In order to do this, government agencies, Chambers of Commerce and businesses all need to initiate dialogue with the business sector on age-related stereotypes and prejudices, many of which are so engrained they are taken for granted as factual. Roundtable participants, for example, noted the stereotype-based belief that anyone over 65 plus lacks the health, stamina and capacity to work, learn and contribute effectively. Yet the reality is many Canadians continue to do so well into their 80s.

They also mentioned the widespread assumption that most people 45 plus are not tech savvy, which is ironic since the majority have used a wide array of technology throughout their careers, including data management programs. In fact, this is the generation that created the technology sector and many of the systems and devices currently being used. And, as Sandra Kerr, director of the G. Raymond Chang School’s Programs for 50 Plus, who also participated in the roundtable, pointed out, people can and do continue learning throughout their lives. Just because someone is not tech savvy does not mean that without a bit of training they can’t become so quickly.

3.0  Jobseekers 45 plus need help to help themselves

Many people in their third quarter of life seeking employment, especially if they’re facing long-term unemployment and financial crisis, begin to lose their self-confidence once they have hit barrier after barrier, rejection after rejection. A large percentage underestimate their transferable skills, including veterans, many of whom are struggling to enter the civilian workforce after retiring from the military. The country’s businesses are missing out on their remarkable wealth of skills and knowledge. Others internalize the ageism and feel they are “too old” to be a worthy candidate. Yet others need additional training.

“We’re realizing we have to look at more opportunities for the lifelong learner who does want to continue to give back to society and wants to be engaged and using their skills and maybe even has to,” said Kerr.

While there are hundreds of governmental agencies across the country with programs that can be helpful to this demographic, for many people finding the information to access them can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

4.0  More collaboration between agencies and information sharing as well as a one-stop resource for this age group.

Investment is also needed in providing coaching to people who need help regaining their confidence in order to overcome the barriers and help them connect with employers.

From an economic perspective, participants noted, investing today in this demographic will not only help reduce the skills shortage, invigorate Canada’s workforce with awareness of the strengths of age diversity, but it will also help fuel the economy rather than drain it with people having to rely on social assistance or unemployment insurance or retire on small government pensions without any discretionary income.

In short, they concluded, it’s time to hit the refresh and rethink button so we can build stronger businesses, organizations and ultimately, a stronger Canada with the full contribution of Canadians 45 years plus.