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Is the creative industry ageist?

17 Oct 17:00 By Lawrence Akers


You’ve probably heard the saying ‘fresh new ideas’?

The problem with this is that it can often highlight the thinking that is associated with who is capable of coming up with contemporary conceptual ideas. 

I’ve personally come across clients who have given me a brief for a graphic designer and been very direct in telling me that they expected the person to be ‘young’ with ‘fresh’ ideas. I’m often a little surprised when I do come across this mentality as it really is discounting a vast pool of talent that exists out there which could easily do the job however, for whatever reason, there is this belief that you have to be young to be on the cutting edge of creative. It probably doesn’t hurt that they also will make the assumption that if they’re younger and less experienced, they’re going to be cheaper too. Or about an ability to perhaps control the narrative of the design which may be easier with someone who is younger and potentially more compliant due to the lack of experience?

The Australia Talks National Survey, which involved a total of 54,970 respondents, found almost half of Australians aged 50 to 64 are not confident about their ability to find a new job if they lost their current one. Statistically, one in four Australians are worried about losing their jobs over the next 12 months and the older they are, the more they experience anxiety and stress about the possibility of finding a new job. With the retirement age creeping upwards and the cost of living becoming increasingly higher, this is an understandable concern.

According to Diversity Council Australia, age discrimination can start affecting you from 45. As for those over 50, nearly 30 per cent of respondents to a 2018 survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission said their organisation was reluctant or unwilling to hire anyone over that age.

In the creative industry, it is even harder because not only is there the financial challenges that come with a loss of job, there is also a certain amount of identity and self worth that a creative would invest into their job. As I’ve often said in my past blogs, creatives tend to be creatives for more than just a weekly pay check; it is a job that speaks to the very core of who they are. As with any form of job in an arts based environment, the salaries are often lower in this industry and, even from talking to people on a daily basis, the ability to work with exciting clients in a collaborative environment is often more of a motivator than the salary package being offered. With each month that passes unemployed, it can often feel like a confirmation that they may not be as creative as they were before or that they have passed their peak.

This has often led to changes in how people present themselves on their CV now. Some have taken to focuses solely on the past 10 years and giving minimal or no lip service to anything prior to that. Dates have been removed where possible to help conceal any indication of age. The focus shifts to the skills rather than the jobs that you’ve had. And honestly, can you blame them?

Another option for people in this situation is to consider going into business for yourself. This can obviously and understandably be quite daunting as it means thinking about how you work in a completely new and different way. This is where your skills in branding and marketing really come forward as you need to start considering what your services are, why you’re different to your competitors and how to build your business. Fortune favours the brave, and so it can often be an interesting period for those going down this path as they explore and consider how to continue building their business. Having said that, I’ve seen many go down this path and have great success with it. Despite the inevitable challenges that exist in any job, the ups and downs in this situation can feel different because you are the boss.

Consider what the typical ‘career paths’ for creatives look like. In my experience, graphic designers will often go on to do more client facing roles (such as account service) as they become use to taking briefs and presenting to clients. Finished artists go on to do production, traffic and studio management. The challenge is always going to be that each environment is will require less of these management roles and, as a result, there is inevitably going to be less opportunity for people to step into them.

What also happens when the people doing the interview are younger than the person applying for the role? I’ve had an instance in the past of two slightly older people being turned down for a job opportunity after an interview because of their age. The feedback was that it was a ‘young team’ and that they may not fit in. I pushed back, speaking to the interviewers direct report, and as a result, a second round of interviews happened and one of them was successful. It’s two years on now and she is still there, doing an incredible job. In fact, the placement may have triggered a shift in how they employ because they’ve seen the benefit culturally with having someone with more life experience in the studio and they’ve diversified the age within the studio even more.

Regardless of if it is a perception that older people can’t do ‘cutting edge’ design, or the belief that more inexperienced people are going to cost less to the business and be more malleable, I think we can all agree that there is enough stories out there from people’s personal experiences to determine that the industry does need to change it’s view on what the older workforce can offer. There may not be any easy solutions; it’s a ‘one conversation at time’ requirement to re-educate people around this issue however it should be one that we’re all prepared to have. And for all you youngsters in the workforce now, the added incentive is to change the attitudes that exist out there because one day, you’ll be that age too.