Fifty Is The New Thirty?

11 May 2017

Many of my compatriots in the hotel industry are getting, let’s say, rather long in the tooth. “If you remember the 1960’s, you weren’t there, man” they whisper. But, a quick look at one’s birth certificate and a peek in the mirror reminds us that we were, most certainly, there. The offspring of erstwhile flower children; growing up without the interwebnet and the Google, cell phones and point-of-sale systems. We remember Prog Rock, Punk Rock, Disco, food trapped in jelly, the Cold War, the first moon landing and silver service.

I guess it’s an indication of my transition into middle age that I have a fair amount of “mature” skills on my CV database. Most of them experienced people who are up to date, energetic with at least 10 – 15 years productive work left in them. Some do the Comrades or ride the Argus and can outwit and outrun people half their age. So, why do I keep hearing that someone over 50 is “too old” for the job?

“Too old! Really?” Jagger is singing to 100,000 concert goers in Cuba. President Obama is a young president at 55, and our president is 74! Okay, perhaps that’s a bad example. But, the truth is the average 55 - 60-year-old is fitter, sharper and is more modern in outlook and skills than ever before. Fact! So, why are employers turning them down?

My mature candidates share with me their struggle to get meaningful work, the experience of sending out numerous applications with no reply. The frustration of sitting at home waiting for recruiters like me to phone. They complain that talent and experience is not enough. They describe the pain of rejection due to the one thing they can’t control, the ageing process. “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64” to quote the Beatles. Incidentally, they were a pretty good pop group in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  It’s hard to feel relevant and pay the bond without a job.

The Oldsters have experienced most scenarios in a hospitality business, the wrinkles and grey hair are testimony of that. They’ve made their mistakes so are unlikely to repeat them. They have years of knowledge to pass on. Chances are they’ll “stick around” longer than a younger, more antsy employee. They have a strong work ethic, good networks, loyalty and they know what they want. As my old mum says “Old age and treachery always trump youth and enthusiasm”.

Work gives us meaning and identity. It gets us juiced up every day. Work challenges us, stimulates us and keeps our minds agile and young. The 1950s and ‘60s generation are still full of vital creative ideas and energy. We should be considering them on an equal level to more youthful candidates and not rejecting their applications as soon as we eyeball their birthdate. Once you get over the constant reminiscing about how tough it was back in the day, you may employ a gem.

But Chefs be vigilant, if you hire a candidate who thinks the epitome of haute cuisine is ambrosia salad, chicken a la king, devilled eggs or fondue bourguignonne – you may be choosing the wrong 1960s baby boomer. 

By Stephen Hickmore