The annual conference of the Institute of Personnel Management: The annual conference of the Institute of Personnel Management

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The Independent Online
MUCH of British industry believes that workers over the age of 45 are 'past it', the Institute of Personnel Management conference was told.

Many companies believe they are not worth recruiting, promoting or training. But nearly a third of the workforce is aged over 45 and the proportion would grow in the next decade and into the 21st century, Hilary Metcalf, of the Policy Studies Institute, told a seminar.

'Many employers are under-using a valuable resource, a problem which will become more acute as the labour force ages over the next 20 years,' Ms Metcalf said.

Older workers were equally productive and as capable as their younger colleagues, she said. They repaid recruitment and training by staying longer with companies.

The negative view of older workers was that they were slower learners, less accepting of new technology, slower to adapt and less interested in being trained.

The positive view was that they were more reliable, more loyal, more conscientious, had greater 'interpersonal skills' and worked harder and more effectively, Professor Peter Warr said.

Professor Warr, director of the social and applied psychology unit at the University of Sheffield, said research showed that generally there was no difference in how older and younger employees were rated on job performance. There were variations, however, according to certain types of work. 'Not surprisingly, older workers are found to be less effective in continuous heavy physical work or in continuous rapid information- processing.'

Older workers were more effective in jobs that required reliability and accuracy and where substantial knowlege was deployed. A survey of more than 1,000 IPM members showed that 86 per cent wanted to see government action to prevent employers discriminating against older workers, Professor Warr said.

Nearly 40 per cent want legislation to stop job advertisements specifying upper age limits and 47 per cent favour a government- backed voluntary code.

The impetus towards equal opportunities in the 1980s has been slowed by the recession, according to a leading training consultant.

Many employers feel unable to justify benefits and concessions for some staff in the face of possible pay freezes and redundancy for others, Chris McCormack, of Allied Dunbar Assurance, a leading company in the Opportunity 2000 equal opportunities initiative, said.

Specialists in equal opportunities found themselves, 'cajoling managers to adopt flexible working approaches, invest diminishing resources in child care and change attitudes at a time when a flat economy and depressed job market drive them instead to fall back on tried and tested employment practices'.

Mr McCormack, equal opportunities manager at Allied Dunbar, said that while there was a 'hiatus' as far as equal opportunities was concerned, forward-looking companies would commit themselves to ideals that would repay them with employee loyalty.

Progressive policies were just as important in the current economic climate, in fact more so, he said. Organisations which put initiatives in place now would be better placed in a more buoyant labour market.

Equal opportunities specialists should attempt to keep their concerns on the agenda.