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."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

English and Media Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English & Media Teacher - ...

Graduate BI Consultant (Business Intelligence) - London

£24000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate BI Consultant (B...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam