A Hawke’s Bay man in his 70s who retrained in computing systems after an injury ended his building career has applied for hundreds of jobs to no avail.

Experts say ageism is a real factor in the New Zealand workplace, and simple changes like banishing the term “retirement age” could help lift those on a pension into work they’re good at.

Ernest Seadon, 74, was a builder until he hit his 50s, but after the injury he didn’t want to sit around.

He amassed a bachelors degree in computing systems (graduating from EIT in 2004) and a folder of various other course certificates since, but hasn’t had a fulltime permanent job in nearly 20 years.

In the first two years after his graduation, Seadon said he applied for “well over 300 jobs all around New Zealand”, receiving only about three replies.

He’s since lost count of the applications he’s put in, but his application regularity has dropped off.

Seadon, whose interests include bagpipe playing, spends his time doing the accounts for a church one day a week over 11 years and cleaning out garages to help boost his pension.

Seadon says he’s asked when he is going to retire, and reckons his age is a factor in his inability to get stable work from employers.

“[It’s] age and they’re not prepared to train. They want an 18-year-old from overseas with 30 years’ experience.”

His wife is also struggling to find work in the supermarket and customer service industry, despite having about five years’ supermarket checkout experience.

Seadon said he reads stories of worker shortages and says he can’t help but feel the over 60+ age group is a “tap” of workers “not even being looked at”.

“Look at people in the older age bracket and be willing to train. It doesn’t take long to convert someone who has been learning all their life to train them up.

“They think old people can’t learn but here’s living proof that in your 50s you can get a degree.”

Geoff Pearman, founder of Partners in Change, a consulting business that specialises in the area of age and work, said ageism is real, impacting people at both the younger and older ends of the spectrum.

Pearman said it was often due to unconscious bias by potential employers, and language around retirement was one of the reasons for it.

“We’ve got to stop talking about a retirement age because that immediately gets into employers’ minds that this person is retirement age so therefore, they should just shuffle off.”

Pearman said older workers usually stay in a job longer, are more stable, and are less likely to be job-hopping.

Pearman said he would recommend older workers use a functional CV rather than chronologically listing every job they’ve ever worked in, look at entrepreneurship as an option, and network with those in the industry they want to work in.

Age Concern chief executive Stephanie Clare said it was an issue that NZ “needs to disrupt”.

“We know that our society is a little bit ageist and look at people’s grey hair or their birthdates and then form an opinion, and the opinion is often not held up when you’ve met a person.

“Some employers could then be making decisions based on what they think that person is capable of and not necessarily their skills, expertise, or other added value that they can add being part of the workforce.”

Many people over 65 can achieve highly and should be considered if they meet criteria for roles, she said.

She advised workers to remove their age from a CV and list things that they think would be useful to a potential employer, focusing on the strengths they can bring.

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