Oldies with manners and courtesy win out over gauche, sloppy yoof

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A top hotel chain is desperate to recruit over-50s, writes Rachelle Thackray. Their absentee and turnover rates are low and they're polite to guests, unlike their young counterparts

LIFE supposedly begins at 40. But in an increasingly fast-moving job market, many mature employees worry that by the age of 50 or 55 they will have been replaced by a younger model, and their working lives will be drawing to a premature close.

But, as someone once sang, it ain't necessarily so. Despite the fact that even some senior executives are glancing nervously over their shoulders and considering a move into interim management, there are a number of employment sectors which have begun to actively encourage applications from older - and possibly wiser - candidates.

It's not all manual or blue-collar work, either. Choice Hotels Europe, which last week launched a campaign to recruit the over-50s, has several success stories to tell. Elsie Roberts, for example, was out of the workplace for 19 years while she brought up her family, but rose within two years from clerk to personnel manager at the Quality Hotel in Perth, Scotland. "My son saw the job for a clerk advertised at the local job centre, and within a week I was back to work," she says. But it had been an uphill struggle. "When I decided to return to work, most of the companies I applied to told me that I was too old, lacked experience and had been away from work for too long. I even took a word-processing course at college to try and widen my opportunities, but even then I found every door was closed."

Brian Worthington, director of human resources for the hotel chain, claims many potential applicants are put off because firms make their adverts intimidating. "People are often capable of doing a job two or three times more senior, but so often, you oversell jobs by the job title. Elsie, for instance, had never dreamt of applying for personnel manager, but clerical assistant seemed a good opportunity."

In a trade in which old-fashioned courtesy, presentation and administration skills rate highly, older workers - even pensioners - have been going down a storm. Absenteeism is lower among such staff, as is turnover. More than three-quarters of those who left the organisation in 1996 were under 35.

"Older people were very much more stable, and you have got to ask why. We have had such terrific success with mature people, but often they have lost confidence because they have been out of work," says Mr Worthington. "Older people have the niceties of life, but money is often not the main motivator."

The Institute of Personnel and Development, meanwhile, is pushing to introduce a voluntary code of practice to deal with the issue of age discrimination in the workplace. Its magazine, People Management, took the decision in January 1996 not to publish job advertisements containing age limits, but spokeswoman and policy adviser Diana Worman maintains that the best way to tackle discrimination is to convince businesses that it is in their best interests to take on older people, rather than compel them by legislation - kicking and screaming - to do so.

Frank Fleming, 69, carvery chef for four years at one of Choice Hotels Europe's hotels in Walsall, says he is lucky in his trade. Good chefs, he says, are never out of work. "I always think it's best if you've got a lot of experience. I work nine shifts a week and my wife's happy. I don't think about retiring."

Choice Hotels Europe's biggest challenge is to persuade older people of their marketable value. To that end, Mr Worthington has launched a poster campaign, covering church halls and pensioner club venues. "We want to stimulate people's confidence, and we want to say: 'You are not on the shelf, providing you enjoy working with people'."

For more information about opportunities, telephone CHE on 0181-233 2001.

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