“Only candidates younger than 50 years old are eligible for this position.”
“Well, Milen jan, I just got 56 years old. I think I am too old for them.”
Shocked and disheartened by the unwritten rules of job discrimination in Armenia, I decided to mask my emotions and continue the pursuit of a suitable and ‘unbiased’ job for my uncle, a professional network engineer.
“Here it is! This one has a lower salary, but does not impose any age restriction.”
Persuaded by my words of encouragement, my uncle decided to apply for the position. But he did not mention his age in the CV. Two days later, he was invited for an in-person interview.
“How was it? Did they like you? Did you answer all the questions?”
“Everything was going better than expected, and for a moment I thought I was in. But then the HR specialist looked at my hair, then at my forehead, and finally asked my most ‘favorite’ question: ‘How old are you?’ Then he took a deep, inscrutable breath and concluded with a promising, yet artificial ‘We will call you.’”
“Sometimes I wish I were wine: the older, the better,”
My uncle never heard from that company again. More than forty-five job applications and dozens of interviews later, employment opportunities for my 56 year-old uncle in Armenia were looking bleak.
“Sometimes I wish I were wine: the older, the better,” my uncle would often joke.
Had his skill sets weakened with age? Had all his qualifications faded like his hair? According to some employers and recruiters, he was a has been. But to me and my unaided comparisons, he was more spirited and youthful than many of my teen-aged friends and classmates. A man of many talents, my uncle always kept himself informed and updated about the newest discoveries in the IT sector; he always tried to keep up. Yet, to prospective employers, my uncle and many other men and women in his age bracket are often being considered as time-worn individuals not fit for anything, no matter their educational background, professional experience and expertise. Whereas, according to the retirement age law in Armenia, these people are not only ineligible for work, but also for life. If they cannot find a job and cannot even retire, then how are they supposed to afford a minimum standard of living in between the de facto job-restricting age and the de jure retirement age?
While those like my uncle often dream of becoming wine in order to be considered ‘better,’ there are others my age who seem to confront this dream in practice, needing to be ‘older.’ In fact, if my uncle was considered ‘too old,’ my 18 year-old cousin was said by many online job announcements and offline employers to be ‘too young’ for a marketing specialist position. According to one of his interviews, he was “too young to have enough knowledge” despite all the international certificates which so evidently approved the opposite. According to another, he also lacked necessary documented professional expertise and work experience. But where this experience could be obtained if not in the workplace, and where the required higher education diploma could be received if the candidate’s family were experiencing financial hardships and the candidate was said to be ‘not eligible’ to find a job to assist himself?
As in The Little Prince and in life as well, “Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters.” And, as Exupéry continues later in his book, “… those of us who understand life couldn’t care less about numbers!” It seems like many of the Armenian HR specialists and employers do not understand life. The reality is that the unjustified and unreasonable age-based discrimination has negative consequences not only on the individual basis, but on the Armenian economy as a whole. Our labor force is losing. We are losing our elders’ wisdom, their knowledge and professionalism accumulated through years; we are losing the physical and mental energy of our youth, and, as a result, we lose all the potential fruitful benefits associated with the collaboration and knowledge-exchange between the elderly and the youth.
It seems we are on track to form a society full of individuals who either dream of becoming wine, or, as wine, are not ready for ‘drinking.’