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Gen X workers aged 45 and older may be bearing the brunt of a global unemployment crisis as the pandemic adds to existing challenges for older workers, according to a new report.
Rapid digital adoption during the pandemic has accelerated the automation of jobs and worsened underlying ageism, making it harder for mid-career workers to secure roles, according to the report from Generation, a non-profit employment organization.
In a global study entitled "Meeting the world's midcareer challenge," the firm found that entry-level and intermediate workers between the age of 45 and 60 face increased barriers due to biases among hiring managers, as well as reluctance among workers to learn new skills.
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Generation's CEO said the report had, for the first time, "put a number on ageism."
"This is a demographic that is absolutely in need and it's very clear that once you reach a certain age, it just becomes much harder to access a job opportunity," Mona Mourshed told CNBC Make It.
Ageist misconceptions prevail
The study, which was conducted between March and May 2021, surveyed 3,800 employed and unemployed people from 18 to 60 years old and 1,404 hiring managers across seven countries.
Despite the varied international jobs landscape — from the U.S. to the U.K. and India to Italy — the findings were broadly the same: 45- to 60-year-olds are the most overlooked employee bracket. Indeed, for the past six years, mid-career individuals have made up a consistently high percentage of the long-term unemployed.
Most notably, the research found that hiring managers across the board considered those who are 45-years-old and above to be the worst cohort in terms of application readiness, fitness and previous experience.
Among their top concerns were a perceived reluctance among older workers to try new technologies (38%), an inability to learn new skills (27%), and difficulty in working with other generations (21%).
It comes in spite of evidence that older workers often outperform their younger peers. Indeed, almost nine in 10 (87%) hiring managers said their hires who are 45 years and above have been as good as — or better — than younger employees.
Mourshed said the findings highlight underlying biases at play in the workplace.
"It is often the case that like identifies with like when it comes to 'isms,'" she said.
For instance, she explained, there is a tendency among hiring managers to opt for hires in their age group. Meanwhile, C.V.-based interviews can make it hard for candidates to demonstrate their skills, she added.
Re-engaging a lost workforce
Training could provide one solution to the issue. Still, the report also highlighted a reluctance to pursue training among jobseekers who are 45 years and above.
More than half (57%) of entry-level and intermediate-level job seekers expressed a resistance to reskilling, while just 1% said training increased their confidence when looking for work. Often, that is due to negative experiences of education, conflicting personal duties, and lack of available programs and financial support for mid-career workers, said Mourshed.
However, she insisted that training can provide real benefits. In the study, almost three-quarters (73%) of career changers aged 45+ said that attending training helped them secure their new position.
It's one of several solutions put forward by Mourshed as companies and governments grapple with workforce shortages. Other solutions she outlined include:
- Linking training programs directly to employment opportunities and providing stipends to support workers who are 45 years and above, who are hesitant to engage in training.
- Changing hiring practices to reduce potential age biases and better assess the potential of age 45+ job candidates by using demonstration-based exercises.
- Rethinking current employer training approaches to make it easier to fill new roles with existing employees who are 45 years old and above, versus relying on new hires.
- Improving employment data on a national level to help government organizations address the unique challenges of specific age groups.
"Given that it is 2021, intergenerational workforces must be a reality that every company seeks to put in place," said Mourshed.
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