Why age discrimination laws will have an impact on how employers recruit from universities

As of this month, it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the grounds of age. But before you stop reading (on the basis that this is an issue more likely to affect your mother or grandmother than you) consider this. It could be argued that graduate recruitment schemes discriminate against anyone who isn't in their early twenties. So will these traditional fast-track programmes become a thing of the past?

While they're unlikely to disappear altogether, Rebecca Clake, adviser to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says we can expect to see some major changes. Many employers are renaming their schemes, for example, while others are opening them up to non-graduates. Some are doing lots more besides, all with the aim of avoiding falling foul of the new law.

"The biggest alteration that graduate recruiters will have to make is axing age limits," says Clake. The latest CIPD research found that 38 per cent of graduate schemes had age restrictions; it has yet to be seen if employers have acted quickly enough to rectify the situation in time for the new law.

Also coming to an abrupt end will be graduate recruitment literature that's showered with pictures of young people doing things like pot-holing, she says. "Employers won't have to ditch themes like pot-holing, but they will have to think about showing a wider age range of people doing it, or else risk being accused of indirectly discriminating against older people," says Clake. "After all, the pictures could imply that only younger people are welcome."

All this is great news for mature graduates, or for people who graduated some time ago, she believes. "No longer will employers be able to exclude graduates who don't fit the stereotype of a 21-year-old."

Rachel Krys, spokeswoman for the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), adds that some recruiters are re-thinking whether they should insist on graduates being willing to be mobile - either nationally or internationally. "This could also be seen to indirectly discriminate against older people, who are more likely to be settled in one location, with perhaps a mortgage, children at school and partner in a job," she explains. "Some of our member companies have already decided to end this requirement, on those very grounds."

Other companies have come to the conclusion that it will be too risky - under the new law - to ask for a certain number of Ucas points or to insist on graduates who studied full-time for their degree. Ucas points didn't exist until recently, so older people may not know what they are, and part-time courses traditionally attract a higher number of mature students, explains Krys.

"There is even the suggestion that employers who only look for graduates in a handful of universities - particularly Oxbridge and the red brick ones - may be discriminating on the grounds of age because these institutions tend to have fewer mature students," she says.

Even those employers who target a wider range of institutions now have to be careful about restricting their recruitment processes to the university milk round, as the majority of students who attend these events are young graduates. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) recommends that employers enhance any milk round programme with a broader recruitment strategy, using other avenues to capture a wider pool of applicants of differing ages.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs has responded to the forthcoming age legislation by renaming its scheme the "analyst" and "associate" development programmes, rather than mentioning the term graduate. "When we looked at our programmes, we realised that although there was no direct discrimination, we were directing graduates down one path and everyone else down another. By removing the term graduate, we have opened up the scheme to people of all ages - whether they graduated recently or many years ago," says Stephen Golden, executive director in the office of global leadership and diversity.

Goldman Sachs has also been busy educating all those involved in recruitment on the benefits of age diversity. "We wanted to make sure that all our staff avoid any unintentional discrimination, for example by using certain words when writing job advertisements," he says.

Indeed, employers will have to be very careful not to allow covert discrimination to creep into marketing copy. For example, if you ask for someone "dynamic" or "vibrant", it has implications around age.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the largest graduate recruiter in the UK, is also focusing on training all those involved in graduate recruitment. "Because we have made attempts to be age-neutral for a couple of years now, our biggest challenge will not be adapting the graduate recruitment scheme itself, but ensuring that all our people who are involved in the selection process don't make any inadvertent assumptions around age," says Sarah Churchman, who heads up student recruitment and diversity. "To this end, we have adapted the training we give our interviewers to include a section on age and for those already trained up, we'll be providing additional guidance."

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police is one of a growing number of organisations that has gone down the route of not differentiating between graduates and non-graduates in its fast-track training scheme. Its High Potential Development scheme is open to anyone who believes they have what it takes to go far within the police force - whether a graduate, a current police officer, a career changer or anything else. Those who get through get access to training and career development opportunities you find elsewhere in the police service.

Among those who are relieved that the new law won't force employers to quit their graduate recruitment schemes is Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR). "We don't have enough high quality training programmes for graduates as it is, so we would be shooting ourselves in the foot if the legislation encouraged all employers to throw in the towel," he says.

He hopes that graduate recruiters see the legislation as an opportunity to embrace age as a diversity issue alongside others like gender and ethnicity. "If you look at websites and brochures at the moment, you could be forgiven for getting the impression that the focus is on very young, fresh entrants to the labour market, and clearly that has to change. Application forms can give this impression too - for instance as a result of questions about what societies you belonged to at university."

Once graduate employers have made their attempts to become age-neutral, Gilleard would like to see them monitoring the outcomes. "They'll need to look at whether they get more applicants over a certain age and whether these older applicants are getting through the selection process. In addition, they'll need to look at whether the ones that are recruited stay in the organisation or if they leave quicker than others. If the answers to any of these questions are negative, the organisation should look at why. This will show their efforts are more than just lip-service."

He also believes that older graduates need to do more to help themselves in the recruitment process. "Mature graduates often understate what they can bring to the table," he says. "I remember one person who came up to me at a recruitment fair and said she had a first class honours degree in English, but it wasn't getting her anywhere. I said, 'Convince me why I should employ you,' to which she responded with a short description of the skills gained at university. It transpired she had been a nursing sister before university, yet she hadn't thought about mentioning the very transferable skills gained during that time that would surely help her persuade employers to take her on."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
booksNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: 1st Line IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpd...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Audit Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Audit Graduate Opportunities ar...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015