About 35% of Britain's labour force is 45 or older and this figure is set to increase to almost 40% over the next 10 years. The 1999 DfEE Code of Practice - Age diversity in employment - acknowledges Britain's changing age profile and calls on employers to tackle age discrimination.
The non-statutory code sets a standard that recognises the business benefits of an 'age diverse' workforce. It shows organisations and employers how they can ensure they not only choose, but retain and develop the best person for the job - whatever their age. It eliminates the use of age as an employment criterion.
Age discrimination differs from other forms of discrimination only in that it can affect all those of working age, including those who may have already experienced other forms of discrimination. It is just one aspect of the equal opportunities issue now being addressed by the CIC task force.
It intends to carry out a survey to determine the extent of discrimination in the construction industry and plans to send out questionnaires to companies of all sizes as part of this research.
Age discrimination is difficult to define succinctly. It can occur across the spectrum of employment and can affect people of all ages. It can limit a person's chances of getting a job, as well as their chances of promotion.
There are direct and indirect forms of discrimination. The most obvious forms are where people hold stereotypical views about a person's capabilities to do a job, because of their age.
Some employers may regard all young people as immature and incapable of managing older staff, for example, even though they have the necessary qualifications and experience.
Others may consider people over 50 as being incapable of learning about new technology.
Older people looking for employment come up against the use of age limits in job adverts and 'disguised discrimination', where employers ask for applications from people who are newly qualified, or recent graduates.
There is also concern among many older workers that, after the age of 50, they receive little or no training. They are often considered first for redundancy, in part because they tend to earn more than younger counterparts. It is also widely assumed that older people are in a better position - emotionally as well as financially - to cope with being made redundant.
Employers making decisions about who to recruit, train or promote on the basis of irrelevant factors like age restrict their chances of finding the right person for the job by up to 25%. Employment decision making should be based on a person's skills and qualifications, not their age.
Action to eradicate age discrimination should be taken as part of a wider personnel and equal opportunities strategy to create a flexible and motivated workforce.
Key points Age discrimination affects both young and old Discrimination comes in both direct and indirect forms Guilty employers reduce the chance of finding the right candidate by 25% Discrimination reduces both motivation and flexibilty in the workplace