Joia Shillingford: British employers ought to take a harder look at the talent they are dismissing

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The Independent Online

In today's Britain, you can't get a job if you are too young, too old or too female. Does this mean Britons are unadventurous employers? And, if so, does this help to explain why our economy is so sluggish?

If you can only recognise talent when it comes in a predictable package, the inevitable conclusion is that you are probably missing out on a lot of it. Talent that could come up with new ideas or ways of doing things and create new business opportunities.

Typically, when the economy is slowing, disproportionate numbers of discriminated-against groups get the chop. So to see who these groups are, it is helpful to look at the latest unemployment figures.

For example, the figures from the Office for National Statistics show that of the 118,000 who became unemployed during the three months to the end of November, 40 per cent were in the 50-and-above age group. This takes unemployment in this age group to a 17-year high of 432,000.

Youth unemployment and female unemployment also hit record highs of 1.4 million and 1.13million respectively. The figure for women is the highest since records began in 1992.

With pensions being eroded, it goes without saying that many of those in the 50-plus age group need to work. Likewise young people, who need to get that first job on their CV to make them hireable in future.

It is perhaps easier to understand why employers might reject a young person with no track record, no references, a poor attitude and a mobile-phone habit – though they are by no means all like this. But it is harder to understand why they would not choose a more experienced person.

Why should 50-year-olds with 10-20 years more experience than 30-to 40-year-olds have such a hard time getting jobs? Surely in today's job market, older people can be hired more cheaply, making them a bargain that could really benefit a business.

It just does not seem logical not to give these folk a chance. But can they really cut it? Well the leader of the free world, Barack Obama, is in this age group and while he has not fixed all of America's problems, he has managed the nation professionally through one of its toughest periods.

So next time you see the CV of someone you reckon is in their fifties, remember that if you pick the right person, you could be getting a superstar. And if they are female, even better! Surely, most of the reasons given for discrimination against women in the workforce apply less and less the older they get. They are less likely to get pregnant, less likely to need time off to look after children and less likely to have an attitude problem.

I'd love to meet some of Britain's most adventurous employers, with successful businesses and diverse workforces. But I suspect, they would probably turn out to be the UK offices of successful American firms.

Meanwhile if you are newly unemployed, one way to save money might be to make daytime the new nighttime. It is often cheaper to do stuff during the day, whether it is to go out to lunch with a mate or go to the theatre. And you will be less tempted to spend too much on alcohol or get a taxi home.

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