Fighting Ageism: Talking with Steve Lawrence about the value of older workers

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Fighting Ageism: Talking with Steve Lawrence about the value of older workers

Hello there. I’m Steve Lawrence. I’m the managing director of EEVT Limited. I’m also the co-founder of the Federation of business, education consultants, and also involved with the BAME apprenticeship awards. And I sit on eight governance committees, so quite busy with lots of different things going on. I’ve been in the industry now for about forty-six years.

What are your thoughts on ageism?

Ah, very good question. As I’m old to myself, it’s an area where I think there are lots of problems. And those problems really lie with the person who is perceiving what ageism is. And what I mean by that is some people may think, ‘Oh, I like an older person, because they might be wiser, or like an older person, because they may have left a lot of knowledge. They may have seen a lot of problems, they might have had experience, and abilities and skills throughout their working life.’

 However, on the other side of the coin, they may be people who are looking at it and saying, ‘I want somebody who’s younger, much funkier, much more into, shall we say, flexibility, much more blue-sky thinking and around the productivity, they may believe was going to be a difference between a young and older person.

Have you experienced ageism yourself?

Yeah, I suppose so. I mean, I’m 70 now, and being a 70 year old  I must have experienced it in different ways. As I said before, in the introduction, I work on about eight governance committees. I think a lot of that work in the governance side, they’ve been looking for someone older and they’ve been looking for someone that has that lifetime experience. Way back about 20 years ago, I was going to work for a reading partnership, a very large organization, and I felt at the time there were a lot of pretty young people running around. And I think I slipped through the net and I managed to land the job maybe through my local knowledge rather than my age. And I felt like I was the grandfather with other teenagers who were popping in and out from school to speak to me. Just check on whether they were on the right track. That was a very interesting time. 

But I think there’s also this perception with younger people about being older. And I think a lot of us get that even when we’re 16,17 or 18. We think, ‘Oh 40 that’s really old’. And then we get to 40, and we think, ‘Oh, 60, that’s really old.’ So yes, I have experienced this in the past, but not in a bad way, I’d say.

Do you think managers are good at managing mixed-aged teams? Do they have sufficient experience/training? 

Great question. I think some of that is how they became a manager. And if they came up in a mixed-aged team, they probably are able and willing to deal with it. And they quite understand it. But if you look at somebody who’s been popped into the position straight out of university, they almost probably have a different reaction to older workers. 

There’s also another side and that side is about apprenticeships. Everybody thinks that apprenticeships are for young people, whereas there are a lot of people who wish to change their industry or sector. And they do so because maybe of redundancy, or maybe because of  COVID, and so forth. And those people who want to change their direction and pathways, those people are perhaps quite willing and able to go into an apprenticeship. I’ve seen this with the BAME Awards, actually, where a lot of people that have been put forward are actually older workers who have taken on an apprenticeship, particularly in care and also in IT, funnily enough. 

Are older people given enough opportunities for training and progression? 

Right, I suppose I’m going to go through what I call my L zone. And what is the L zone? In my experience and my knowledge, I see the L zone as the loyalty zone. What does that mean? That means that you’re most probably going to get much more from an older worker because they will have that loyalty to go the extra mile and that thought process of bringing things to the table – the same one that everybody talks about youngsters who have got fresh ideas, new ideas, and so forth.

It’s an interesting thing, those benefits of hiring an older person. And they are there if you look for them. 

How can organisations engage a bit more with older workers?

 I think you have to look back over the last 15 months first. You’ve got granfathers and grandmothers who are now shopping online, and they have never checked online before. They’re using zoom. They’re using FaceTime. They’re able to go on to Ebay and buy stuff, and utilize lots of technology that they were never perceived to be going to be using or know how to use. You see lots of people who are in the community and function in a really good way via technology. So I think you could actually look at marketing for the older workers and put forward a strong case there. Because those people they’re going to be there for you on time. They’re probably going to work a little bit extra, at out of time, and put that extra couple of hours in there to solve problems. Those people have a lot of abilities and skills that perhaps you couldn’t even see that were there before, and traditionally never thought of being there. 

Do you have any message you’d like to give out to companies or individuals around age discrimination and tthe value of hiring older workers?

Yeah, I think obviously, as an old guy in this wonderful technological world, I think there is a very good message for employers Try not to look at requiring things like age in the CV, or dates of birth or anything like that. And try not to look at when they went to school, or what type of qualifications they got, and look at their skills, and their abilities. And also as hobbies, if that makes sense. And it’s a strange thing, but there is this propensity within, if you like, the world of sport, that a lot of people think certain things because of age. I was watching something about bowls the other day, which I’ve always thought of bowls as being an old person’s game. And two or three of the champion bowl people are like in their 20s – 30s. So that turned it on its head for me that I believed bowls was an old person’s game. And yet the top people are actually young. And then I looked at something else, which somebody else pointed out to me and that was golf. People say about golf, you know, lots of people retired playing golf and so forth. There’s also a lot of middle-aged and young people playing golf. So you can’t make these, if you’d like, cameo pictures of what a person looks like deciding on age bracket. I think you have to look at the person rather than the age.

Thank you Steve!