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Young and old is a winning combination

26 July 2006

Many hospitality and catering bosses will have radically change their attitudes to avoid falling foul of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations Act 2006 which comes into force this October argues Gareth Edwards, director of Springboard Wales.

Hospitality throughout the UK needs to take the new legislation that comes into force on 1 October, very seriously.

It will affect businesses of all sizes and it doesn't matter whether they're from the public or private sector. It also covers both employment and vocational training and, of course, caters for young and old alike throughout their working lives.

In essence it means that employers will have to adopt age-positive practices and will no longer be able to recruit, train, promote or retire people on the basis of age. Trendy bars and gentleman's clubs beware!

I get the feeling that there's going to have to be a major cultural shift in some employers' attitudes if they're not to fall foul of the law. The legislation makes it very clear that skills, experience and the ability to do the job are important, not someone's age. Businesses need to start planning now.

The hospitality industry has one of the largest workforces in the country, employing almost two million people. And, while it's true to say that it has a very diverse workforce, it currently has only 38,000 over-65s and 350,000 under-19s.

With people living and working longer, there will need to be some addressing of the issues.

Wise employers are already aware of the benefit of employing people of all ages and tapping into the many different experiences and skills they bring to their jobs. They realise that everyone has something to contribute.

Having a combination of talents will benefit the business and make the most of what all employees bring to the table.

Those who scoff at yet another piece of legislation may like to note some of the practices that may now be seen as age discrimination:

  • Offering medicals to the over-50s
  • Requesting an individual's age during an interview, rather than as part of an equal opportunities monitoring process
  • Moving people aged 50 or more off heavy manual duties or shifts
  • Offering training just to younger members of staff or refusing to train older employees
  • Believing that younger people do not have the competence for management and overlooking them for promotion
  • Placing an advert with the words ‘trendy staff needed'
  • Sending a birthday card with a caption such as 'Over the Hill' or ‘Take it easy at your age'

Hands up if you're guilty of any of these practices or anything similar because, from 1 October, they could be challenged in a tribunal.

It's a fact that most age-related stereotypes are a myth. Ask Thomas Cook where 32% of the top sellers are over-50s or LA Fitness, which employs club administrators aged 50 and more.

The demographics don't lie. The older workforce is going to become more dominant as the years go by.

Both older and younger workers will need to integrate into a variety of roles and the likelihood is that we'll all get better service because of it.

In an industry where all ages can make a difference to the bottom line and variety of work is a key motivator, we have the chance to enrich the working environment no matter how many calendar years staff have notched up.

We pride ourselves on a warm welcome and caring, sharing staff. We need to prove that whether you're 16 or 66, a customer or an employer, age won't be a barrier.

I would urge all businesses to have a good look at the legislation and get help from the very informative www.agepositive.gov.uk website to avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls.

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