Today’s graduates may have the same employment rights as their 50-year old peers but is age discrimination being taken too far and are we denying youngsters the rites of passage that are essential to success? Jonathan Fitchew, joint managing director of Graduate Recruitment and Sales Training Company Pareto Law examines the implications.

With the advent of age discrimination laws the position of the older worker has been overplayed. Managers are so keen to avoid being seen as prejudiced towards 50 plus employees that nobody thinks of the plight of the young graduates. The pressure from older workers entering the graduate job market at junior levels and the danger of recent graduates leapfrogging into high flying jobs beyond their level of competence lead us to a position where young people are being denied the rites of passage they need for a fulfilling career in sales.

Building Blocks

If young graduates cannot access the more junior ranks of the sales organisation as they start to carve out their career they will inevitably miss out on the vital building blocks that educationalists agree are needed to access higher levels of learning and achievement. If you cannot master long division in maths you will struggle with differential calculus. Missing out building blocks in your “career wall” will mean either that you can only reach a certain level or that it may come crashing down around you.

Brent Avoidance Strategies

One of the dangers of the leapfrogging phenomenon is that managers never actually get the chance to observe management practice; good or bad. Behaviour modelling is a key concept in developing your own management techniques. Even if your manager was David Brent from “The Office” TV series you will learn something - if only to avoid everything he said or did in the future.

Embracing Mistakes

Great sportsmen and women understand the maxim that you practice ideas in training not during the performance. If we put young people out into the fray too soon without giving them the opportunity to try out new ideas they will either play things too safe or they will experiment in the “performance” and most likely crash and burn along with your company’s reputation. Young people need to be given the right to experiment, come unstuck and try out new ideas as part of a gradual learning process. Mistakes that have never been made can’t be learnt from.

Cul8r Boss!

Young graduates learn the finer points of communication from their older colleagues and managers. If, because of the new laws, the mix is not right, we will face the real danger of graduates making things up as they go along. They may think it acceptable to call the client “mate” and to text - cul8r - to their boss. As you progress in your career you build up a reference library of incidents, behaviours, successes and mistakes. These all form part of your career reference library. Of course we can use training to avoid many of the pitfalls of business life but the more subtle skills, usually to do with communication, are best honed by experience.

Network Knowledge

Especially in a sales environment younger workers need to be given time to build up their own networks of contacts in the industry. Ideally they will learn networking skills with their peers before striking out and finding high-level contacts at board level, which make them a more valuable employee and give them the confidence to aim for ever higher levels of achievement.

Doing a Theo Walcott

A recent example of missed rites of passage from the world of sport is Theo Walcott, the 17 year old Arsenal footballer who was taken to the 2006 World Cup in Germany only to have his confidence dented by not making it onto the field for a single minute. Clearly, once he was out there, the coaches realised he was not psychologically ready to perform on a world stage. We are in danger of thwarting the dreams and ambitions of a whole generation of graduate sales people in a similar way by reducing the pool of entry level positions and at the same time pushing inexperienced youngsters too far too fast.

Natural Cycles

At the core of this debate is the idea that there is a natural cycle for people to build their career, which is in danger of being eroded, not by legislation but by people’s extreme responses to the changes in the law. In our quest for a level playing field for old and young in the employment market let us not deny the youngsters the opportunities that us oldies have had - to build knowledge, skills, contacts and confidence, with the guidance of experienced staff at hand.

About the Author:
Jonathan Fitchew is joint managing director of Pareto Law, a firm specialising in graduate recruitment and sales training and winner of the 2005 Sunday Times Best Small Company to Work For.

About Pareto Law
Pareto Law is the UK’s leading graduate assessment, placement and training organisation, employing over 80 people at offices in Cheshire, London, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Crawley and Glasgow. The company believes that often 80% of sales come from the top 20% of the sales team. Pareto Law aims to provide this top 20% through a mix of rigorous assessment and professional training. The company also runs sales and communication skills training for experienced employees, enabling companies to raise the calibre of their existing teams. Pareto Law places some 1000 graduates a year with prestigious clients including; Computer Associates, Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Barclays and Coors Breweries. In late 2004 Pareto began to extend its operations through a regional franchise programme, which has continued to strengthen the Pareto brand throughout the UK.
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