Prof. John Rust, director of The Psychometrics Centre in Cambridge, said: “The demand of a degree from a job applicant may be discriminatory as middle-aged and older people are less likely to have this qualification. Five per cent of young people obtained a degree 40 years ago compared with about 40 per cent now. Also the stipulation that a degree must be in a specific subject may be a problem as today there are many more subjects to study at university.
Where this is an issue psychometric tests present a much safer alternative, as competencies being tested can be tailored to the job.”
The age discrimination rules, which come into effect in October apply to all posts, whether permanent, part-time or contracts. (See: New laws protect against age discrimination - Shout99, Sept 2006)
Prof Rust warned: “The implications of the legislation go much further than most employers realise, and their widespread lack of readiness is expected to prompt numerous claims.
“Even the requirement that candidates should have ‘A’ level qualifications may be open to challenge. Psychology, for example, is one of the most popular subjects today, but 20 years or so ago it didn’t exist. Many more students gain ‘A’ levels than hitherto. The possible reasons do not matter, because so long as “adverse impact” (over-representation of young candidates in the selected sample) is a consequence a case of discrimination could be claimed.”
Numerical, verbal or other tests that depend heavily on the sort of cognitive skills that decrease with age (such as memory) may be discriminatory.
Prof. Rust suggested: “It may be possible to balance these with tests that are more geared up towards things that increase with age, like wisdom.” He added that new research will be needed into the effects of age on many of the tests currently favoured by employers and HR departments. The Psychometric Centre is planning to carry out such studies.
Psychometric tests compare a candidate’s results with those of others in a norm group. If a sufficient number of older people were not included in the norm sample, then the tests might be biased against the older age groups. While norms constructed by publishers of tests for the past 50 years have ensured enough women and ethnic minority candidates were included in the groups to make the sample representative, not much attention has been paid to age as this was not a legal requirement and most job applicants are younger.
More and more in recruitment, testing is migrating from paper and pencil to the computer and the internet. But the young are much more familiar with computers than the old or middle-aged, and thus these IT techniques discriminate against older candidates. (It could equally be argued that written tests discriminate against young people as they are less used to having to write.)
Prof. Rust also referred to changes in personality with age, advising that organisations which use personality testing may find they need to take this into account. Scores on sociability, impulsiveness and agreeability go down with age (the Victor Meldrew effect), while scores on introversion, tough-mindedness, fortitude and fair-mindedness go up.
It is not only candidates for jobs who will be affected by the new law. With the abolition of compulsory retirement at age 65 there will be many issues surrounding the suitability of older people to continue working, be it in the same role or another.
Prof. Rust said: “Up to now people may have been allowed to ‘see out their time’ even if no longer fully efficient. Attitudes to this will change, not only for workers over 65 but for those approaching retirement and the effects could even kick back to the under 60s.
"Hence there will be a demand for clinical assessment and psychometric testing to clarify whether people in work remain suited to it and to identify other work to which they may be more suited.
“It is all part of the Law of Unintended Consequences.”
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Susie Hughes © Shout99.com 2006