Cognitive diversity – or having an assortment of individuals from distinctive demographics, with different personalities, thinking and values – has proven to optimize team outputs. A key element of cognitive diversity includes having people of different ages and experiences working together

By Radhika Panjwani, Special to the Globe and Mail* - Aug, 2021 

A particularly poignant scene in the Oscar-winning film Nomadland, based on Jessica Bruder’s bestselling book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, features Bob Wells (playing himself) – a U.S. author, YouTuber and founder of the annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous event – addressing the gathering of van dwellers and itinerant labourers about the tyranny of the marketplace. It’s evident that his speech touches a raw nerve.
 
“I think of the analogy of a workhorse – the workhorse that’s willing to work itself to death and then be put out to pasture. And that’s what happens to many of us,” Mr. Wells tells the group.
 
Nomadland – both the film and the book – offers an unvarnished glimpse of the predicament of some older workers in post-recession North America.
 
The dichotomy is that Canada’s labour market is currently experiencing a skills shortage. Baby boomers, nudged prematurely out of the job market, want to work. And yet only a scarce number of employers will hire them, because of ageism.
 
In 2020, Express Employment Professionals, a recruitment firm with offices across North America, surveyed some 700 business leaders, decision-makers and job seekers to find out if ageism was a factor during hiring.
 
Eighty-one per cent said they believed their age was a concern in the hiring process. Half of those that believed age-related discrimination was an issue were in the age 55 to 64 category.
 
“I have seen many companies clean out the older workers so they don’t have to pay pensions,” noted one survey respondent. “Last good job I had, they grouped everybody into about 100 different groups and the five oldest people in each group were let go. Skill, talent, experience played no part – only age determined if you were let go.”
 
Bradley Jenkins, co-owner of several Express Employment staffing franchises in Southwestern Ontario, said many people can’t afford to retire, given that the average household debt in Canada has skyrocketed.
 
“Sometimes there’s a need for people to work, and sometimes people want to work to keep themselves sharp,” Mr. Jenkins said. “The days of working for a company for 25 years and getting your gold watch at the end of it are fewer now.
 
“We are always encouraging – and educating – companies to hire people in the 55-64 demographic because they are less likely to look for another position, are relatively healthy and probably don’t have young dependents at home.”
 
Companies are often leery of hiring older workers, assuming they are tech-illiterate, resistant to change and not coachable. Some businesses consider their existing older workers as a burden on the bottom line and may even employ various measures to edge them out.
 
Rather than being specific to any industry, ageism is pervasive.
 
A 2018 developer survey by Stack Overflow found that three-quarters of professional developers in IT are 35 years old or younger. The same survey revealed 61 per cent of developers over 45 worried their age was limiting their career options. It appears there may be some truth to their concerns, as less than seven per cent of professional developers in 2018 were 45 or over. Worldwide, the average age of developers ranges between 22 and 29, according to the Stack Overflow poll.
 
“Ageism is the elephant in the tech room,” writes Howard Williams, a customer-experience leader with Parker Software, on the TechTalks website. “As programmers progress, their years of experience increasingly become a poisoned chalice. If the statistics are anything to go by, this problem is even more entrenched than you might imagine.”
 
Cognitive diversity – or having an assortment of individuals from distinctive demographics, with different personalities, thinking and values – has proven to optimize team outputs. A key element of cognitive diversity includes having people of different ages and experiences working together, noted global research analyst Josh Bersin and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist for Manpower Group, in the Harvard Business Review.
 
The duo suggests companies can alleviate workplace age discrimination by introducing age diversity to their Diversity, Inclusion and Equity (DEI) programs. Other recommendations include offering older workers managerial and mentorship roles, introducing flexible schedules and accommodations, and launching reverse mentoring and development opportunities.
 
Mr. Jenkins says there’s a subtle but definite shift happening, noting that over the next few years, employers will be scrambling to utilize the experience, skill and expertise of the 55-64 demographic that they might previously have overlooked.
 
What I’m reading around the web
 
  • Consumers can expect the price of bread and baked goods to rise by as much as 6.5 per cent this year, according to this Reuters story. Drought in the Canadian Prairies and the northern U.S. Plains have impacted the spring wheat harvest – just 16 per cent of spring wheat in Saskatchewan and 21.6 per cent in Alberta is in good or excellent condition.
  • The Orbital O2 is a floating turbine fastened in the rapid waters of the Orkney archipelago, less than 20 kilometres to the north of the Scottish mainland. In this World Economic Forum post, Orbital O2 is described as the “world’s most powerful tidal turbine” – one that has the capacity to generate enough green electricity for 2,000 homes in Scotland. It’s reported this green energy will counterbalance the equivalent of 2,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
  • If you’re interested in what Olympians receive for winning medals, this article in Forbes notes that the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) will pay out impressive bonuses: $37,500 for a gold medal, $22,500 for a silver and $15,000 for bronze. Closer to home, Canadian Olympians will receive about $8,000 to $16,000 out of the national Olympic committee’s Athlete Excellence Fund. For instance, the 22 members of the Canadian women’s soccer team will get $350,000 combined.
  • According to this CNBC column, it’s a great time to put your resume out there, as the labour market appears to be doing well following an initial shock early in the pandemic. But anyone that has done the job-application dance of late knows the whole purpose of a resume these days is to get the automated applicant tracking system (ATS) to choose you over other candidates. So how do you create an ATS-compatible resume? For starters: Keep the format simple, include keywords specified in the job posting, and ask for help from the company’s HR team if possible.
 

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About the Author

*Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

Photo Credit

Photo: Pixabay

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