Ageism: employers lose out

April 9, 1999

Bright young things need only apply

B&Q plc

At least 50 of this year's 400 applicants to DIY chain B&Q's fast-track store manager scheme would never have been considered before. For all of them are over 25 - the age limit that the company has just abolished.

For B&Q's fast-track recruitment scheme,which offers store manager status in three years, retail management trainee adviser Karen Packer does not join the milk round of older universities, but sends recruitment materials to all university careers offices and advertises in stores and on the internet.

Ms Packer chose to remove the age limit when she joined the company: "I tried to find out why it was there in the first place and there didn't seem to be any good reason," she says. Although she does look at A-level grades, she has also taken applicants without A levels - going as far as ringing universities to find out what their access and foundation courses involve.

"We say people have to be mobile, though we try to place people where they want to go if we can," she says. "But as long as they get through our assessment process then I think older graduates can do really well. Lots of people in their twenties do not have the maturity to be store manager after three years: they cannot deal with conflict or stand up to people. And it is harder to retain them."

'Badco' plc

The glossy recruitment brochure from Badco (not its real name) shows twenty-somethings in aggressive managerial mode. "We're a young company,'' it announces. "And we're going places."

Yet Badco's annual recruitment drive could not be more traditional: ignoring the two new universities near its training headquarters, it sends its director of human resources (male, 36, grammar school and Durham) on the annual milk round to nine "big name" universities.

"We don't mind what your degree is - as long as you're prepared to hit the ground running," he tells potential recruits to the year's trainee scheme.

He hands out application forms like the ones he always filled in - starting with age, then school history, GCSE and A-level grades, followed by interests (eg school prefect, sports, university societies).

Badco is overwhelmed with applications. "So out goes anyone over 28, or with A-level grades lower than three Bs. A year off is a plus point - provided they have done something challenging like travelling. But longer than that, well, we're looking for people who are going to get to the very top in our company, and if they've been hanging around unable to make up their minds, they're not going to fit in. "

Badco is a fictional company based on anonymous case studies featured in IER research.

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