Last night’s edition of Panorama on BBC1 in the UK was about the lack of job prospects for the over-fifties. There is no getting away from it. If you have reached a certain age you will be subject to age discrimination in recruitment either directly from employers or from the recruitment agencies representing them. I was talking about this only the other day.
The programme did well to highlight the difficulties, including the direct discrimination based on age, the greater difficulty in getting a job after having been out of work for a month or so. The longer someone is jobless, the more difficult it is even to get an interview. If one were forthcoming it would very likely be with someone much younger who might be uncomfortable even interviewing the older person, let alone giving them a job.
Panorama had the four people featured in the programme interviewed by Lord Digby Jones. He is of course a successful businessman and no doubt a fine fellow, but I thought he was pretty unsympathetic, making some uncomfortable suggestions. He suggested that two of the men should consider moving across the country to find a job. That would be pretty difficult for someone with deep rooted in his local community and with his wife at least still holding down a job as one was. A suggestion of taking voluntary work might be useful in showing that someone was prepared to keep busy while looking for a job, but it doesn’t pay the bills.
Lord Jones then suggested that the men should re-skill and go into business, perhaps as a plumber or a brickie or a carpenter. Obviously Digby doesn’t know anyone in the construction industry. If he did he would know that hardly anything is going on and there is not enough work even for the already skilled and experienced. Even if a newbie fifty-something plumber worked on his own it would be a big step to take his skills out and start his own business. It is the sort of occupation where it would be best to get a start working for someone else to learn the practical ropes, which would involve the employment hurdle again. It was just unrealistic and I have to say rather condescending.
The female victim was trying to start her own business, but had low self-esteem resulting from loss of status. If you have been “someone” in a certain sector, it is hard to come to terms with not being “anyone”.
Of course as we know here, it is great to start our own businesses, but it is not for everyone. It is very hard, and many simply do not have the life skills to do it. My view is that we need to do something allied to what we know in our start-ups, but not to be too choosy. As a friend said this morning, we should not be afraid of having bolt-on businesses. That is why I have at least three businesses and come to think of it, help out with a fourth which is not mine. They had roots in the difficult early days, and have grown and taken on lives of their own.
What the out-of -work population needs is not patronizing suggestions, but helpful information. The poorly skilled need special assistance and those with some skill need help from some organization other than the JobCentre, which is useless for skilled people.
I hope StartUp Britain will help in showing the way, and give people ideas to help themselves, but starting a new business takes planning and ideally mentoring (there’s always me for that), but let’s not pretend it’s easy. It’s hard work and not for everyone, which is why those of us who have made a success of such adversity should help those who cannot help themselves to find work.
It’s tough out there for the lonely older unemployed. How do you feel about it?
The edition of Panorama, “Finished at Fifty?” is here for the next few weeks, at least for UK viewers.