BIMBeing: The Journey #27
#27 – Age is irrelevant…
Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 from Pexels.
“Age is just a number” is a phrase you’ll typically hear from people when they hit the 50 mark; it’s usually an off-the-cuff response to being called ‘old’ or ‘middle aged’. Well, oldies, I’m here to say that I completely agree with that statement, but it’s not only in your favour.
I’m a strong believer in the abilities of any individual being the only thing that should matter when it comes to your career; attributes such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality and the like are entirely irrelevant to 99% of job roles – and so is age. Unfortunately, whilst other forms of discrimination are now widely addressed, ageism continues to slip under the radar. More often than not individuals are making subconscious assumptions based upon your age; as innocent as this mistake could be, it can still hinder your career progression.
Take the image above, for example. If your requirement is simply to make phone calls from your desk, does it matter which handset you choose? It doesn’t. In fact, the older, wired phone is probably more suitable for your needs but you’d immediately assume that the newer iPhone was better anyway, and that’s the one you’d choose. It’s an abstract example, but it demonstrates the subconscious choices we make every day. I have a real issue with assumptions; you should never assume anything, you must possess real knowledge in order to make informed decisions (see Post #1).
In the technical arm of the AEC industry there are two common assumptions being made when it comes to age: age = experience, and youth = innovation/technical ability. Both are false.
Age is no indication of experience.
Being older does not necessarily mean that you are more experienced in any particular field; more days in existence on the planet does not automatically make you more valuable. I don’t deny that on the balance of probability an older candidate is likely to have more experience than a far younger one, but it’s certainly not always the case. Always assess the individual, and always with an open mind.
Consider my class from university. I, like several others, went directly from college to university without a break in the middle; this made me one of the youngest in the class. In the same class were many who had taken a few years off from education, mostly to travel. They’re obviously older, but we’re still in the same position. And then, at the top end of the scale, were people 20 years my senior that had decided much later in life to drastically change career paths. That’s an age range of around 20 years, but on graduation day we’re all exactly the same – same education, same experience. The unfortunate reality is that lining up for a job interview, those 20 years older are automatically perceived as more experienced, but it’s simply not the case. You don’t know, without assessing, what each individual has done with their years. You also have to consider the quality or relevance of any experience too, and not just the duration; 10 years of poor or unrelated experience is not better than 5 years of intensive, industry experience. Never assume that age = experience.
Youth is no guarantee of innovation.
I believe that’s also a James Bond quote. On the other side of the coin is the assumption that the younger generation are more innovative and better with technology. Again, there is a balance of probability that says it can be the case, but you must never assume that it’s always going to be true. An older candidate that’s actively invested and kept pace with technology may well be more ‘tech-savvy’ than the millennial with their smartphone.
An easy example is my own family. I have a cousin, in his early 20’s, that can still only understand the basic functions of his smartphone. I showed him not too long ago that he could store his pictures in ‘the cloud’ and then access them from his PC. Genuinely, his mind was blown, he had no idea what cloud storage was. I kid you not, not too long before that I had to show him how to crop a photograph. Flip the coin and consider my 80 year old grandparent who now runs his home from his iPad, using smart-home technologies that he’s discovered and installed himself. He has 10 times the technical ability of my younger cousin, but you’d certainly never assume that from somebody almost 4 times his age. You must always assess the abilities and experience of the individual, regardless of their personal attributes.
It has to stop.
Age certainly is just a number. We must all fight our own subconscious perceptions to ensure we do not inadvertently discriminate any individual based upon their age. It can have a serious impact on your career prospects, whether you are young or old:
“You’re too young to hold that position”, “you can’t be promoted at that age” or “you’re not old enough to have that level of experience” – a young individual climbing the ladder, often at a pace that senior management do not like or do not understand. I have personally experienced this through my career, and continue to do so. It’s yet another hurdle on the career path.
“You’re too senior to take that position”, “why are they applying for a junior role at that age?” or “they won’t be very quick on the software” – an older individual, also trying to climb the ladder, perhaps later in life after a career change. I too have seen this in practice; it’s made things quite difficult for the older candidate.
It all has to stop. We’re all guilty of it to some extent, and therefore we are all responsible for putting an end to it. Individual abilities and experience trump age, and any other personal attribute, every time. Capability and competency are the key; see the DBE.Careers BIM Competency Assessment Tool for a real indication of ability and experience, devoid of any assumption.
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