Just remember, oldies can be goodies

There are many fine attributes that come along with age, especially when it comes to the workforce.

By Michelle Cooper

I know people in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s  who refuse to learn how to turn on a computer, who will never own a cell phone, who will struggle to their dying day with anything technological, who view change as something to be feared and avoided.

I’m actually related to a couple of them.  But, they are in the minority.  Yes, as middle-aged and older adults, we do wrestle with microwave clocks, find programming our PVRs a challenge, and often resort to phoning our kids or grandkids when we run into yet another ‘glitch’ on our laptop (isn’t that why we had kids in the first place?).

But we know how to show up on time every single workday.  We know how to dress appropriately for the workplace.  We know how to give an honest day’s labour for an honest day’s wages.

We have learned a great deal on this journey called life even though it’s difficult sometimes to put it on a resume that can only be two pages long.  We know how to communicate and how to treat customers.

We know what it’s like to do without during times of recession and how to monitor our spending during times of wealth.  We’re the ones who created the concept of continuing education because we’re the ones who created the concept of life-long learning.

Yes, my knees creak when I squat down to play with my grandson and yes, my fingers are not as nimble as they used to be, but there are many much younger people in this town who can tell the coming weather by the pain in their joints too.

According to the British Columbia Human Rights Code regarding discrimination in employment, “A person must not refuse to employ or refuse to continue to employ a person, or discriminate against a person regarding employment or any term or condition of employment because of the… age of that person…”

The code goes on to describe ageism as, “stereotyping and prejudice against individuals or groups because of their age.  Ageism can lead to individual acts of discrimination, as well as discrimination that is systemic in nature, such as in the design and everyday operations of workplaces, services, programs and facilities.

Age discrimination means treating someone differently and poorly, or harassing or insulting someone because of their age.  Discrimination may also happen when a rule, condition, policy or practice that is the same for everyone has an unfair effect on a person because of their age.”

As a recent participant in the mature career opportunities program offered by the Terrace and District Community Services Society, I spoke with a number of people who have, as older workers, experienced ageism first-hand.

I was shocked at how blatant the discrimination was in some cases.  I knew it existed, but somehow I thought today’s employers would be more cautious about crossing the boundaries into law-suit land.  I assumed they would be far more savvy about the laws and far more subtle in their approach.

It is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their age.  It is also, perhaps more importantly, immoral.  Shame on you, those of you who are ignorant of the amazing potential of older workers.

Just because we’re a little grey on top of our heads does not mean the grey matter inside is not up to par.

Times have changed in the world and most of us are not in the position to be able to enjoy “a life of leisure” no matter what age we are. Bottom line is we, young and old, need to be employed.  For an employer to close the door, not because of someone’s inability to do the job, but because of hair color and assumptions, is wrong.

Do not tell us we are too old.  Tell us we can give the job a shot.  Tell us we have the right to a job we are capable of doing well in spite of a few creaks.

Tell us that our reliability, honesty, experience, and simple common sense earned by living so many years, are worth giving us the opportunity to prove that we are nowhere near ready for pasture.

Mature workers bring a world of experience to the table and can provide many years of loyal service when compensated and treated fairly. And if you don’t believe me, go ask your mother.

Michelle Cooper is a retired teacher living in Terrace, BC