Terri Grainger explains the implications of the new regulations on age discrimination

At its annual conference in Glasgow in October the CII is launching its talent initiative. The aim is to attract graduates into the industry and over time other young and promising individuals will also be targeted, including college students and school leavers.

It should also be remembered that on 1 October the new Employment Equality (Age) Regulations come into force. Now seems an appropriate time to remember the benefits of employing a diversified age group in the insurance industry. The regulations will cover all ages, both old and young, although the biggest changes are likely to occur within the older groups.

Some sectors are especially prone to ageism, particularly 'young' areas such as computer gaming within the IT industry.

The insurance industry is often accused of having an 'old style' image but that does not mean that the companies within it are not ageist in some form. Some are and continue to discriminate on the basis of age when hiring for certain jobs.

For example, when hiring a high profile business development individual, more mature candidates may not be viewed as 'dynamic' enough. Equally, a younger candidate may lose out to a more mature individual in relation to senior level appointments, despite having the appropriate skills for such jobs.

Arguably while age may be deleted from CVs, during the interview process the candidate's age will become apparent. An excuse can always be made up regarding why the younger candidate was better. In the US where such regulations have been in force for years, people have commented that they do not see droves of companies hiring 'mature' candidates even when they have a wealth of technical experience.

In France some have argued regulation has meant that in spite of a common retirement age of 60, employers who fear future redundancy situations are reluctant to take the risk of recruiting people approaching 50 for fear that their eventual early dismissal will be expensive.

No amount of legislation regarding job advertising can ever influence the decision of a hiring company regarding which candidate to select, before or after interview. Reasons for choice of candidate do not need to be given and can rarely be challenged unless an illegal expression of discrimination was made, or a company policy contrary to the regulations can be demonstrated.

However, the fact that there may be ways of getting around the new regulations is to ignore the real point. With an ageing population and an ever diminishing pool of talent and experience, the acceptance of an ageing workforce is essential.

There are around 19 million people aged over 50 in the UK - 40% of the adult population. By 2020 experts predict that the number of people who fall into the 50 plus age group will have increased by a further three million. There will then be more people aged between 55-64 than between the16-24 and 45-54 age groups forming the largest age group in the labour force.

The population is living longer and older people will want to and have to remain economically active longer. If consumers are age diverse, it is logical also to have an age diverse workforce.

It is unwise to ignore the younger generation, but it is also dangerous to forget the wealth of experience offered by older members of staff.

Often the most outstanding teams are those which include a mixture of ages and backgrounds. There is a more extensive exchange of ideas and experience within such groups and it also gives the company added value.

Basing employment decisions on pre-conceived ideas about age, rather than on skills and abilities, is to waste the talents of a large part of the population.

Turning someone down for a job because they appear too old, or too young, could also spark costly litigation. Talk of the floodgates opening has already been heard. It will be some time before it is known how the new regulations will work in practice, but employers should err on the side of caution and use the incoming regulation as a positive basis from which to dispose of any outdated ageist practices.

Too often the view is that mature workers are more settled, show less ambition and are more willing to take less challenging roles within the business.

Yet age brings experience. The fact that the average age of broking directors is getting older does not mean they are less able to innovate.

It is also worth bearing in mind that while some associate older employees with more days off sick, short term sickness - the biggest source of disruption for employers - is less common among older employees.

By avoiding unnecessary and irrelevant restrictions on who it can recruit, train or promote, a company is less likely to limit its choices.

Recruitment is about getting the right person for the right job, not, as happens in some cases, the youngest. IT

' Terri Grainger is a consultant at Mansion House Recruitment

Notes for employers

  • Candidates need not provide dates of birth on CVs. Requiring a date of birth is not necessarily age discriminatory. However, for avoidance of doubt age can be moved to a diversity monitoring form.
  • Employers will have to be able to show why a certain number of years experience is a necessary pre-requisite to be a successful applicant.
  • Potentially the legislation could give rise to younger applicants for executive roles because the regulations are based around skills and competencies and not length of experience.
  • Careful wording of advertising should always be adopted. Previously used words such as 'dynamic,' 'lively' and 'mature' are all forbidden under the new laws. Any wording that could be perceived as referring to a particular age group will fall foul of the new legislation.