Age Discrimination Biggest Challenge Facing Job Seekers

by Ron Jamieson

Managing Partner



As we were researching the job search landscape, we found plenty of statistics on unemployment rates, labor force participation rates and so on.  But what seemed to be missing was a sense of what specific challenges job seekers were facing during their transitions.

As a result, we launched our first Job Seeker Survey to help us learn more about how it is to be searching for a job in 2014.

Our panel was made up of white collar workers who were in transition or who had just recently landed, and we received 85 responses out of about 480 invitations to participate.

One of the questions we asked was for respondents to list their top 3 challenges in their own words.  Because we didn’t know what to expect, and did not want to lead on the respondents, we left this question open-ended.

Age Discrimination InfographicOverwhelmingly, the biggest challenge facing our panel of respondents is age discrimination.  This came out as just “Age”, but more often as “Age Discrimination”.  We also saw the term “Overqualified” used, but we treated that as a separate issue because, in some cases, senior people could have been applying to junior positions.

This is probably related to the composition of our panel. About 80% of our panel was over the age of 50, including 15% who were aged 61-65.

Remember, the survey captured the respondents’ perceptions of the challenges they faced, so we cannot say that employers actively pursue age discrimination in their hiring processes.  We also did not go into greater depth on how the age discrimination perceived by job seekers was being conveyed to those job seekers.

The next biggest challenge was the state of the job market.

Statistics Canada recently reported that, for every job vacancy in the country, there were 6.8 people looking for work, which underlines that the job market is still very tight.

Now, in our panel, the majority (60%) came from the manufacturing sector, which has been shedding jobs as companies close or relocate manufacturing plants.  The majority of the jobs associated with these activities are not being replaced, leaving fewer positions available.

Exacerbating this, 52% of our panel represented senior levels of experience – Director-level up through C-Suite.  It’s accepted that there are fewer senior-level jobs available compared to more junior levels, so these job seekers are experiencing a high degree of competition for a small number of positions.

The third biggest barrier to employment could best be described as “Qualifications”.

We approached this as a mis-match between job requirements and the skills and experience job applicants bring.  So this addressed the issue of “overqualified” as well as cases in which applicants lacked certain certifications (e.g., CA) or experience.

As with age discrimination, we are seeing only one side of this issue.  We’re seeing, as we said, a mis-match between employers’ requirements and job-seekers’ backgrounds.  This could be a reflection of employers not recognizing or accepting so-called transferrable skills.  This could very much be the case if, for example, someone from the manufacturing sector were seeking to change industries.  Certainly, given the job market is a hirer’s market, employers can afford to be very selective in the qualifications and experience they expect from job applicants.

For the white collar worker, the job market is tight, with an oversupply of talent.  Employers are able to demand specific sets of experience and qualifications for the roles they seek to fill.  Older workers, in particular, are also expressing that they are experiencing age discrimination. 

 While they have the ability to re-train to better align their qualifications with employer requirements, age is one thing they have no power to control.  Which is why we also have launched a survey of employers to get a better understanding of their side of the age issue.