Is hiring younger recruits better than retaining the older employees?


Picture this scenario…

You are in the middle of a large field in central Greece. The sun has just ascended kissing the sky and sending out a tender sliver of light into the world. You are 20 something, just out of the infantry school armed with a sword and a small shield and surrounded by many other 20 year olds. Across the field you can see a similar army of 20 year olds except their uniforms look different.

Yes you are a Macedonian soldier in the army of Alexander and you face your current enemies but future allies, Athens. You look behind you and you see a strange sight, after a few rows of 20 something’s you see older men. These are the middle aged war veterans. Their battle scarred armor and wounds on their bodies indicating that this was not new to them.

As the battle begins, you feel nervous, and so do others around you. After the first volley of arrows you make a frantic decision, you decide to run back and not face the enemy. Other around you make a similar decision. The only problem, you have rows of veterans blocking your path, instead screaming at you to turn around and charge the enemy.

You charge the enemy as you have little choice, in a matter of hours the battle was over and you have won, tasting war for the first time in your life..

This is not a fictional scenario…

This is what every new soldier from the ancient to the current days went through. Alexander the great was probably one of the first management thinkers and he devised a wonderful approach to solve what we call the rookie problem. He knew that the young recruits were required for speed and energy but they were unreliable as seen in the scenario in the beginning. To overcome that problem he used experience soldiers to make sure that the front would hold.


Today we face a similar issue; do younger recruits bring in more value than experienced employees?

Every technological change has seen a change in the skills desired by management. A good example was the advent of computers which led to a lot of people finding out that their skills were redundant. Some did adapt while many others lost their jobs to younger recruits who were more familiar with computers.

A similar change happened with the advent of the internet. And such changes are becoming even more troublesome now with the growth and proliferation of social media.

A recent story brought to my attention by Altaf Rahman, one of the regular readers of, turned this concept on its head.

In 2007 BMW, the German automobile giant organized a competition in one of its plants, between new recruits and older workers. Both were given two different assembly lines to produce cars. The older employee had some modifications to their equipment keeping in mind their age.

Surprisingly not only did the older lot keep up with the younger ones, they best them on productivity and quality.

So BMW and Alexander the great had similar conclusion on the value brought in by older employees.

In recession torn Europe, I have heard of Government officials delaying their retirement or joining back duty as consultants. Instead of hiring external consultants, European governments are trying to hire back their own experienced employees at much lower rates.

This helps in two ways..

  • The government departments save on cost.
  • Experienced employees are very familiar with the system so they hit the ground running.

Similarly many corporations are seeing employees take a pay cut and reduce the number of works but extend their careers.

A similar trend is seen in PSUs in India, which hire back many former employees as consultants.

So is this a good practice?

I am not sure about the implications of this, but these are some key ideas that have to be kept in mind..

  1. It is always important to get new ideas and perspectives into the company. Organizations feel one way to do so is to get in fresh recruits. They come in with new ideas and are not held back by old habits
  2. A blend of youth and experience wins the war. Like Alexander the great, corporations should have a healthy blend of youth and experience. A imbalance there can send any organization into a spiral path.
  3. Often strategic growth is lost due to cost considerations. Replacing veterans with youth might be a good idea, but it should not come at the cost of future strategic growth.

But I would like to hear from you. What do you think are the advantages of youth over experience or vice versa? I would love to hear your views on the same.

  1. Altaf Rahman says

    Hi Vikram,

    Thanks for the comment.
    A different perspective on experiance :
    In a factory, a machine suddenly failed. They tried every thing to revive it. All the Engineers in the maintenance, manufacturer’s Engineers were also called. They referred it to their overseas technical partner. Still they could not get the machine working.
    Finally the management decided to contact a retired maintenance employee who worked in the plant all his life. They hoped they can gain something from the long experiance of that foreman.
    The Foreman came, checked the machine. The eager management asked him if he faced a similar experiance during his time.
    The Foreman after a long thought said yes. He faced exactly the same problem a lon g long time ago.
    The Management suddenly were relieved of the pressure and thought the problem is over.
    They eagerly asked the foreman, “well, then what did your team do?”.
    The Foreman looked sheepishly around and said “We left it for the next shift”

    My two paisa :)

  2. Dr vikram says

    Hi Altaf

    Thank you for spotting that article, which has led to this piece. So basically you are putting this down to a clash between the second wave and the third wave. So older employees were there in the second wave while in services the average age has gone down considerably..

    I haven’t thought on those lines, I am sure services like consulting need experience. I was talking to a colleague of mine from China who was telling me that there is a greater emphasis on gender equality and age in the services sector in china. We probably in India may not be very clear on that but the Chinese are.

    So there are many issues including culture that determine the fate of the experience vs youth debate..

  3. Altaf Rahman says

    I think, its not a case of experiance vs youth.
    Every company can not have all the experianced people working for them.
    I am not sure about sales / marketing companies but in manufacturing sector, the companies hire youth with long term plan. Even considering attrition, they plan that after certain no of years, the youngsters gain experiance and are valuble to the company. Please note that experianced people can not keep working forever. They need replacement. If they dont groom younsters for tomorrow, they have two alternatives. Either close shop or poach other companies for experianced people.
    Also as Earl mentioned, youngsters work to gain experiance so companies know that they can pay less. During this period of gaining experiance, even though company dont expect much productivity, they groom the youngsters for tomorrow. Some times the company will be pleasently surprised when hardworking youngsters put in more hardwork, bring in new ideas to improve bottomlines.
    Also the companies have to remember that as people age, they do not have the same rush of blood when facing some situation unlike youngsters who raise above the ocassion.
    Also with age, a lot of personal considerations come into the equation. And the way of thinking may change to ‘why I have to bother, I am retiring in an year anyway, let the otehrs worry’
    So I think, the blend of experiance and youth is the best for any manufacturing sector.

    I can not say the same about marketing companies. I am not sure but I visualize the marketing companies work for bottomlines. If for two or three continuous years the set up faces losses, the tendency to close the shop is more. So they may look for experianced hands / people with contacts in right places. They dont need much youth. They want results from day 1.

    Where as manufacturing sector creates assets like buying land, setting up factories, equipment and plan to survive next 50 years, where as marketing companies rent office and buy few computers and start business and they dont mind closing offices in 2 days.

    Just my two paisa :)

  4. Earl says

    This is a better-written article than the one I found a few weeks ago; which was just plain old age discrimination. Sure, youngsters may not have the experience but where else would they get the experience?

    Most companies simply hire younger recruits because they would work for any rate whereas veterans have the experience to demand better compensation.

    I guess my answer would be “it depends.” If the vets are still good, why replace them? In contrast, why not hire the younger ones to learn from the vets as opposed to replacing them?

    1. Dr vikram says

      Hi Earl

      I think it is a tough scenario. And there is no objectivity here. It is more subjective. But I feel that companies hire and fire for the wrong reasons and cost is not always the only criteria…

  5. Naweed says

    +1 for “A blend of youth and experience wins the war.”

    But we’ve got to be careful when inexperienced personnel take charge.

    Do you remember what happened when a junior pilot attempted to maneuver an Air France jet through a tropical storm, while the captain was away for a nap?

    1. Dr vikram says

      Totally agree, I have dealt with cases where inexperienced doctors have done more harm than good…

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