Our population is evolving faster than ever into a strange mélange, never seen in history: we're getting older, fatter, more ethnic and wealthier than ever. Those traits don't seem to cobble together easily in my mind. I don't perceive the wealthy as old and fat and Hispanic (or Asian or … fill in the blanks), but then it's getting harder to clearly define who's wealthy and who's not any more, since many invested their wealth in the stock market. I'm a card-carrying member of the Baby Boomers and although I have gotten out of shape due to a mysterious and rather sudden onset of sheer lethargy, I can still keep up with nearly anyone in my age group and from a professional performance perspective, I'm easily in the top percentile of my professional peer group, regardless of age. So it strikes me as odd that the number of claims for age discrimination has risen strongly in recent years. AARP (yep, got that card, too) has become very vocal about the discrimination practices against its members (who are all over 50).
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was created back in those halcyon days of 1967 and defined “age” as above 40 years old. I can't imagine why anyone would look at a 40-year-old and think, “This person is too old to handle this job,” regardless of the job. Even 50 is considered the “new” 30 (I'll go along with that), but yet we still hear the same filtered refrains from some of our clients about wanting someone who is “aggressive” and upwardly mobile and early in their career or not on the downside of their career. I look to my own career and I am early in my career; since I've been a recruiter for only 10 years; and I've been called aggressive a few times in my life and I am genuinely upwardly mobile, but I can guarantee that if I ever began applying for a position, I would be immediately characterized as “end of career,” plateaued or (my favorite) “over-qualified” for the position.
We are entering a period when we will literally run out of “qualified” people for critical positions. Typically, positions of senior management with critical responsibilities and tenured customer relationships will soon lose the tenured ranks of baby boomers and find that the generation immediately after the boomers is 10 million bodies short. In essence, the decision will come down to hiring someone with 20-plus years less experience in managing a budget, managing a staff and developing industry relationships, or cajoling the existing manager to remain on beyond traditional retirement years, or settling for less qualifications. Another option — and this is where my firm comes in — is to recruit away the competitors' talent.
Our average tenure in the United States right now is hovering a little under 3.5 years. The younger the age bracket, the less the tenure. Gen X'rs are around 3.0 yrs, Gen Y'rs are 2.4 years. Boomers are the salvation of company retention statistics, over 10 years. But they're going away, being replaced by companies who want young and aggressive and then find that the young are so aggressive they leave.
A talented 55-plus year old, who will likely work 10 or more years before retiring represents a better ROI than a 35 year-old who will require significant mentoring and bring a significant risk of flight in less than four years.
Our society and our served industries are mostly intellectual capital any more. We're not recruiting longshoremen who need to pick up 100-pound cartons. We're staffing our companies with people who represent the ability to think their way through complex strategic challenges, whether selling widgets, designing widgets, managing inventories or crafting operational improvements to deliver cost-reductions. For my money, I'd prefer to invest in maturity and the soundness of the logic that goes with that. We have clients who speak of building a bench of young and aggressive employees, but the facts don't support the strategy. For every 30-something bench-warmer, the probability of them remaining with your company five years later to assume a larger responsibility is minimal. And the really good bench-warmers will be recruited by the really good recruiters. “Labor” broadly defined should be assessed on a short-term depreciation basis. If you can attract the right person into the position and three or more years of delivered value, you've more than recovered your return on investment. Whether the employee is 36 or 63, the potential for generating a very solid ROI is equally possible.
Within the next six months every one of our clients will have a need to add talent, to help them grow and meet their expected budgets; whether public or private. Why would any company pass on a candidate for pure reasons of age? It's illogical. And the Department of Labor is getting darn right cranky about it. DOL has been auditing recruiter and company job postings on the internet and inviting those recruiters who have bought into this craze to come and visit them. Personally, I'd prefer to qualify every fat, old and ethnic candidate we can find, and then find a cure for lethargy.
Ted Konnerth is president/CEO of Egret Consulting Group, Mundelein, Ill., a retained search firm with specialties in electrical manufacturing, distribution, consulting services (architectural and engineering) and mergers and acquisitions consulting. Prior to founding Egret Consulting in 1999, Konnerth was with Cooper Industries, where he was vice president of sales for a $1 billion division. Contact info: (847) 307-7125; e-mail: [email protected]; website: www.egretconsulting.com.