Most research on age discrimination covers bias against older people in the workforce. Ageism isn’t all one way…! Age discrimination at any age reduces our wellbeing and commitment to our work.
I was motivated to write this blog following an ‘incident’ (nothing major at face value, but a deep routed problem within our industry) that occurred recently with one of our junior safety advisors. As the managing director of a business that has a relatively young team, myself only 39 and my co-Director being 29 – I ask the question ‘do we have an ageism issue towards younger professionals within construction, that restricts potential opportunities for development?’ And what can we do to ensure young professionals are nurtured in an environment that allows them to develop, build confidence and gain experience. We often talk of a skills gap and the need to attract new talent to our industry, yet are we really able to embrace, promote + engage with new / younger professionals. This coupled with a longer term strategy for addressing any kind of age discrimination (no matter how minor it appears).
The incident…something of nothing?
So the incident, which actually wasn’t knowingly meant as blatant or disrespectful, but I felt could have been handled better and more so highlights a lack of awareness (much more tact required). As a business that promotes enterprise and sees real value in apprenticeship style recruitment and providing unique career opportunities for the right candidate, we must promote our junior members of the team, so that they have confidence to grow and develop. The incident itself was in relation to an email sent to me, but also copying in our junior member stating ‘that they/he/their business would prefer a call with me, due to greater experience and knowledge’. Am I over reacting? (possibly), but I do feel this could have been dealt with in a much more positive way – a way that would give junior professionals greater confidence. I was very quick to point out to our trusted client, that my colleague in question (despite his age, 20 years young) does have experience and the skills to deal with the issue/query in question. And I completely understand the concerns our client had, but this was based purely on his age.
Age…is it an issue?
I started my working life out at Cammell Lairds Shipbuilders + Repairers, as an electrical apprentice 1997-2001 – where the average age of the workforce was 65-70. The skills gap and lack of apprenticeships the result of Thatcher’s Conservative Government cuts, with unemployment at a peak level and apprenticeships axed. And I do feel this process enabled me to learn the basics (like making tea, getting up in the morning) over a four year period – during which time we built confidence, credibility and independence. Though ageism (border line bullying) was the order of the day back then, and being young meant plenty of verbal abuse, the bad jobs and running round after the tradesmen.
I do believe the issues also relates to ‘what am I paying for’ matter, were clients/project stakeholders assume being young relates to less knowledge, skills, experience… COMPETENCE even. We will work towards changing clients + industry stakeholders’ take/view on this, but I believe we can take immediate action to support our young professionals?
Call to action
I call upon our nearest and dearest, professionals (of all ages) to engaged with younger professionals, support them, trust in them and help build their confidence – this will attract talent to the construction industry. As a business we have and will ensure:
- Director involvement in all projects offering guidance, support and confidence to both client and our young professionals
- Primary and secondary contact (a kind of buddy system) – using the expertise of our senior team members to support
- Briefing clients on our young professionals skill set – this allows the client question / challenge (if needed) and set out expectations
- Implemented a client relationship management facility – meaning collectively we can share ideas and progress
- Provide a total commitment to supporting, guiding and nurturing our young professionals – not simply providing training but invaluable 1-2-1 support
Words by Alan Robson, Managing Director – Project Four Safety.