Thursday, March 19, 2015

In Praise of the Older Employee.


As a senior citizen I now have the option of looking back on a series of careers that spanned being a boatyard mechanic, selling nuclear power plants, handling marketing and PR for an uncounted number of high technology firms and now driving cars and people around for a large rental agency. My conclusions, which are aimed at the hiring managers, HR people and the PR departments of some of the larger corporations in America, Europe and even Japan at one time are that I am syill useful and decidedly underutilized.

For the last few years I have tried to land a position that would provide me with more than a minimum wage, using my experience and skills to the betterment of the company that hires me. I am afraid to say that that will probably not happen. It has less to do with my skills than the hiring personnel ethics. Let me explain.

The HR department operates under a number of fallacies bolstered by a perceived evaluation of its mandate and importance. The most pernicious fallacy is that you are looking for the ideal candidate based on a number of misconceptions not the least of which is that your solution will work for your company forever. Maybe that is true in your company, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average is 4.6 years and then gone. The numbers are half that for younger employees. ( )

So hiring for the long term should be the least consideration, but us older people have learned through bitter experience that job changing does not improve anything, a small incremental change in income is not good enough, the better office, the new title really mean Jack. So we tend to stay and try to modify the environment to better suit our talents.  In so doing we will probably make life a whole lot more palatable for the other people you hired. As an older employee I instituted the four day work week in a large semiconductor company’s marketing department for the summer months. I did it because during those months, one member of the family was stuck at work which meant that the rest of the family was missing some serious face time. ( ) I did it because I could see beyond the corporate need to take it on the chin for the company, productivity was up, and no earth shattering events occurred as a result.

The other fallacy is that only candidates versed in the latest technologies and buzz words will be acceptable. On examination this is truly corporate BS at its best. If you look behind the buzz you will see that theolder techniques still apply. For example all the noise about working off the cloud is not new. We used to call it distributed computing with intelligent terminals. I’m sure that there are IT departments out there who will dispute this, but our technology may have advanced while the applications are still in operation as always.  In this day and age of huge storage devices, from terabyte hard drives to 128GB thumb drives, there are very few reasons to not keep your data and apps close to home.

I have also noticed a tendency to downgrade experience. In our careers we have seen a lot of behavior trends that if identified early enough could have averted major corporate disasters. From bad product design to tactial blunders on a personal level there are early warning signs that should trigger alerts based on experience. If a CEO is accused of sexual harassment, deal with it immediately, not because it is bad for the company image, but because that CEO will do worse if he is allowed any leeway. Too early in my career I was put in charge of the Canadian Nuclear Engineering response to the Three Mile Island accident, I wrote my thesis on it as a matter of fact. The basic PR mistakes we made at that time continue to haunt the nuclear industry to this day. In retrospect I would handle it completely differently today, and that applies to Fukushima and other situations where an uninformed public is being panicked into knee jerk responses by uneducated reporters and pundits. If someone tells you that personal experience based on personal events is guiding his responses, pay attention. The big buzzword and industry surrounding crisis PR and management is best not used to test theories. The shit is in the fan, now what should be the attitude.

We also appreciate the quaint notion that you are hiring people who can step right in and implement all the latest techniques. The first thing that crosses my mind is the cost, something we old folks are very aware of at all time, from a personal to a corporate point of view. I was given a $4.5 million marketing budget, and came within $7,000 in the green to spending it all during one fiscal year.  That is experience at work, not fancy new software productivity tools and sales force spreadsheets and pink call papers.

Networking is also a highly undervalued commodity. Fossils have vast networks of people on tap at every level, every industry and country. Business is international; which means that there are no borders until you try to move money. Ideas travel without passports and being able to tell someone that you know a guy is more powerful than an HR person trying to fill a quota.  Personally I remember working with an engineering firm in Montreal on an assignment in Madagascar. I needed local talent for photography and for support services, yes I had a friend in Toulouse who had the necessary contacts, and yes the assignment turned out quite well.

The point of my diatribe is simple; most HR people we rub up against are younger, filling time and a slot matching badly written HR requests full of meaningless jargon. It is meaningless for two reasons, the first is that the HR department has no clue what the executive who put out the RFP for a specific skill, and he as to embroider his idea of what he thinks he heard. But having no experience in the function will miss the essence of the job and hire something he can relate to. Second, the hiring executive does not have the background to judge the fat old guy sitting in front of him who put together some of the largest engineering projects in his market.

My advice here to the HR humanoid is simple, offer the candidate you think will do the job right out of the box because he has done it before not the position but a consulting gig to meet your immediate needs. If, as you suspect, he does not fall flat on his face, then trot out all the corporate benefits of a permanent position. You will do two things, both good for you and your company, you will get the job done and you will earn the undying loyalty of a new, but older employee who will outshine his boss, but will not want that job.