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Apprentice spies

by on October 23, 2012

GCHQ are advertising apprenticeships in British Intelligence. The advert says ‘This is a Higher Apprenticeship like no other. You’ll be learning about and working with some of Europe’s best and most cutting edge technology.’

And why – you might ask – are we blogging about this?

The case studies in the advert are all young people. And we came across the ad via this item on the Gizmodo website. This introduces the recruitment campaign under the heading “UK’s Spy Agencies Looking for Next-Gen Nerd Trainees to Help Neutralise Rogue Satellites” and talks about “new blood” and “next generation”. Which is interesting because of the implicit linking of apprenticeships and technology with younger workers.

There doesn’t seem to be an age limit on the application form…

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4 Comments
  1. Paula Fitzgerald permalink

    Well…these days – except for very few and specific roles – it is not allowed (in the UK) to specify ‘age limits’ on job ads or application forms. It is, odd to see ads from far away places (such as South America for instance) where these age limits (and gender specification) in job ads prevail.

    However, whether in writing or not, there is plenty of evidence in the UK that very clear age boundaries exist in the mind of the recruiters and line managers when advertising or interviewing for roles. Academic research has also demonstrated that the age of the recruiter/line manager hiring for the role has a tangible influence on the age of applicants shortlisted for interviews. The problem is not only the covert discrimination practically deployed…but how can we (academics, researchers, and HR managers) help to eliminate that unfair practice?

    I remember asking a talent manager from a large banking organisation, not so long ago, what would happen if an older (than expected) candidate applied for one of their graduate internship schemes. The answer was clear: “these schemes provide first or perhaps second jobbers with a preparation for the workplace: skills, experience, and networking that older, generally more experienced, workers would already have. They also require energy and a geographical mobility that older workers, particularly those with family responsibilities, generally may not desire. Therefore, offering a place to these (older) candidates – in our opinion – would be of little or no benefit to them.” I can see a number of stereotypes, outdated ‘age norms’, and biases surfacing in that response.

    Equally, it is interesting to observe that unconscious bias training, a tool that has been deployed in a number of UK organisations in an attempt to counteract these attitudes, has delivered mixed results at best. Annecdotally, people who deliver this training shared with me that they have found themselves practically selecting candidates “a little bit like them”.

    Perhaps a step in the right direction may be, especially in industries/professions where there is a short supply of candidates, to implement ‘Returnee Programmes’ where older workers could be offered the re-training and exposure to hiring managers they require at that stage of their lives. At present, to the best of my current knowledge, these schemes run on a very limited basis mainly focusing on female returnees and only a couple of large investment banking institutions offer it.

    However, a couple of questions remain unanswered: Where a large number of applicants apply for one available position, what’s the feasibility of practically rolling out this type of scheme? Also, I hear that employers such as ‘B&Q’ and ‘M&S’ have opened up work opportunities in relatively junior Customer Service roles to part time older workers and that is great, but would anyone support hiring or retaining retrained older workers for more senior and meaningful roles, particularly in the current market environment?

    I guess I also would like to go back to my initial question: how can we (academics, researchers, and HR managers) help to change what it appears to be an ingrained mind-set where old-fashioned socially constructed ‘age norms’ and covert discrimination, in spite of various pieces of legislation and the abolition of the default retirement age, appear to prevail?

  2. Paula Fitzgerald permalink

    On a lighthearted note, tonight is the premiere of the new James Bond (007) movie, and discussing spies and ‘lookism’……I wonder why Bond has always been portrayed as a mid-40s (or thereabouts) ‘interesting’ white British male, but his ‘girlfriends’ – whilst they may be from different ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds are always 20 something ….Why can’t women be considered ‘attractive’ or ‘desirable’ at 40 something…? In fact, ‘M’ (007s boss) is portrayed by an older and not particularly attractive woman. Mmm….interesting…

  3. A complete coincidence – I’d forgotten it was the premiere of Skyfall tonight!!

    Roger Moore was 58 when he finally stopped playing the part of Bond…

  4. Paula Fitzgerald permalink

    On that note, I completely forgot that Her Majesty The Queen was probably the only Bond girl ever over the age of 29!! (as featured during the London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony).

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