Fifty is the new thirty in the hotel industry

Mick JaggerMany of my compatriots in the hotel industry are getting, let’s say, rather long in the tooth.

ÒIf you remember the 1960s you weren’t there man,Ó they whisper. But, a quick look at one’s birth certificate and a peek in the mirror reminds us that we were most certainly there. The offspring of erstwhile flower children, growing up without the interwebnet and the Google, cell phones and point of sale systems. We remember prog rock, punk rock, disco, food trapped in jelly, the cold war, the first moon landing and silver service.

I guess it’s an indication of my transition into middle age that I have a fair amount of ÒmatureÓ skills on my CV database. Most of them experienced people who are up to date, energetic with at least 10Ð15 years’ productive work left in them. Some do marathons or triathlons and can out wit and out run people half their age. So why do I keep hearing that someone over 50 is Òtoo oldÓ for the job?

ÒToo old! really?Ó Jagger is singing to 100,000 concert goers in Cuba. President Obama was a young president at 55. But, the truth is the average 55-60-year-old is fitter, sharper and is more modern in outlook and skills than ever before, fact! So, why are employers turning them down?

My mature candidates share with me their struggle to get meaningful work, the experience of sending out numerous applications with no reply. The frustration of sitting at home waiting for recruiters like me to phone. They complain that talent and experience is not enough. They describe the pain of rejection due to the one thing they can’t control, the ageing process. ÒWill you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 6’4 to quote the Beatles. Incidentally, they were a pretty good pop group in the Ô60s and ’70s. ÊIt’s hard to feel relevant and pay the bond without a job.

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The Oldsters have experienced most scenarios in a hospitality business, the wrinkles and grey hair are testimony of that. They’ve made their mistakes so are unlikely to repeat them. They have years of knowledge to pass on. Chances are they’ll Òstick aroundÓ longer than a younger more antsy employee. They have a strong work ethic, good networks, loyalty and they know what they want. As my old mum says ÒOld age and treachery always trumps youth and enthusiasmÓ.

Work gives us meaning and identity. It gets us juiced up every day. Work challenges us, stimulates us and keeps our minds agile and young. The 1950s and ’60s generation are still full of vital creative ideas and energy. We should be considering them on an equal level to more youthful candidates and not rejecting their applications as soon as we eyeball their birthdate. Once you get over the constant reminiscing about how tough it was back in the day, you may employ a gem.

But chefs be vigilant, if you hire a candidate who thinks the epitome of haute cuisine is ambrosia salad, chicken a la king, devilled eggs or fondue bourguignonne Ð You may be choosing the wrong 1960s baby boomer.

By Stephen Hickmore

Stephen Hickmore

Stephen Hickmore studied hotel management in the UK, graduating from Clarendon College in Nottingham with the National Diploma in Hospitality Management. Stephen obtained his first management position as Banqueting Manager at the Dukes in Kings Lynn at 20 years old. By a twist of fate, a year later, he was transferred to set up the personnel and training department at THF’s only hotel in South Africa. After three years Stephen returned to the UK with THF, but after a year returned to South Africa to join Southern Sun Hotels. Stephen held positions in Human Resources Management with the group until joining the world of Hospitality recruitment and HR consultancy 25 years ago. During the past 20 odd years Stephen has established recruitment consultancy and search firm ÒHickmore RecruitmentÓ. Hickmore Recruitment works closely with key players in the industry to identify hospitality professionals. He is a co-founder of the largest Full-service outsourced staffing company in South Africa, HSC (Hospitality Solutions Company) More information on Stephen and his ventures can be obtained at


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