Seniors fudge facts on resumes to avoid age discrimination

Patrick Sullivan of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce

James Risdon

Halifax Chronicle-Herald

Fearful of being deemed too old for jobs, seniors are re-jigging their resumes to highlight their skills while avoiding any references to dates, says a senior staffing consultant.

“Some of the older folks are petrified,” Paula Webb, a human resources recruiter with David Aplin Group, said in an interview Wednesday. “When I’m screening through resumes, people (in their 50s) will leave off 10-15 years of experience and they don’t put dates . . . They don’t want to be discriminated against because of their age.”

Although the Canadian Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of age, many seniors think it is still widespread.

They may be right.

Ather Akbari is an economics professor at the Sobey School of Business and chairman of the Atlantic Research Group on the Economics of Immigration, Aging and Diversity.

Although there is a paucity of studies to clearly demonstrate ageism, Akbari says the unemployment figures for seniors suggest they may be at a disadvantage when it comes to looking for work.

“The unemployment rate among seniors has increased faster than the unemployment rate for people aged 25-44 in the last decade and this is especially true for Nova Scotia,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

The physical abilities of many seniors decline as they age. But the unemployment figures paint the same picture even for seniors who hold university degrees and are more likely to be doing less-physical, white-collar jobs.

According to Akbari, the unemployment rate for university graduates 65 years of age and over rose from 2.3 per cent to 2.5 per cent in the seven years ending in 2013. During that same period, university graduates aged 25-44 saw their employment situation improve, with their unemployment going from four per cent to 3.7 per cent.

“Ageism appears to be a problem,” said Akbari.

Certainly, there are anecdotes among human resources experts of businesses calling and explaining that theirs is a young, vibrant company and asking for candidates who “fit in.”

Ageist stereotypes of older workers include that they may be too set in their ways and inflexible, unable to deal with the latest technology, or may expect bigger salaries and benefits packages. Often, the reality is much different from those ageist notions.

“That person is bored to tears and just wants to get out and meet people,” said Webb.

The human resources expert advises her clients to tailor their resumes to the jobs they want.

It’s not just the older workers who can suffer from ageism in the labour market.

Patrick Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, says Nova Scotian employers need to realize that older workers are a valuable asset.

“The numbers for the workforce for people under 65 are shrinking, and if businesses don’t look to older workers as a resource to be cherished and make efforts to retain them, they will run out of workers,” said Sullivan.

According to the Ivany Report, Nova Scotia needs to bring in roughly 7,000 people every year just to keep its labour force on an even keel. Three years after the report, though, Nova Scotia’s biggest influx of new arrivals since the Second World War, aided in part by the federal policy of accepting more Syrian refugees, brought in only 5,200 newcomers.

The president of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce says businesses will have to redouble their efforts to hire from demographic groups traditionally under-represented in the labour market.

“There are under-represented groups in the workforce, which includes aboriginal peoples and African Nova Scotians,” he said. “I would encourage our employers to look at those groups as an additional source of employees.”

Although Sullivan shied away from saying there is ageism in the hiring practices of Nova Scotia businesses, he did say that if such a prejudice exists, it is up to employers to change their mindset.

“They may have to supply some additional training,” he said. “If someone’s over 65 and has come back into the workforce, they might not want to work five days a week. They may want to work only a couple of days a week . . . We need to be more flexible in our environment and provide more skills training.”

At the Sobey School of Business, Akbari said the next step is for studies to examine the situation, determine whether there is ageism and, if so, how it manifests itself.

That will then inform public policymakers, he said.

“We need to have more information,” said the professor. “We need to know about the productivity of seniors and what they can do in the workplace and, if it is a myth that they are not as productive, then we need to dispel that myth.”