Redundancy at 50 or even 45 – Part 2

The man who fell to earth

We discussed the other day our accountant who has been unemployed for three years and is now 50. We have heard about the dramatic drop in income, about living on cheap food, the problem with one of the two teenage sons (not a happy thought), the selling of cars, and living off benefits including the £400 a month from JobSeekers Allowance. That’s a lot and must be because both husband and wife are getting it.

Ritual humiliation

When I was first unemployed the Jobseekers allowance was an insult and a humiliation; turning up at the Jobcentre every fortnight, going through a hopeless ritual with someone sitting behind a desk who checked you had filled in your card correctly. Both of you knew it was a farce. They had nothing to offer.

I dutifully recorded every job application I had made, and every enquiry over the telephone cold-calling for an interview. The longer it went on, the more soul destroying it was. Psychologically I got through it by thinking in my old charge-out rate terms. I got £60 a week for twenty minutes humiliation every fortnight, which if I thought about it was £360 per hour. That as a pretty good pay rate. The trouble was it was only £60 a week at the end of it.

At the beginning of my unemployment my lovely wife of only a few months was still working. I was prepared to do anything and my only consolation was that when I was made redundant I still had most of a year’s gym membership paid for. I spent a fair amount of time in the gym which kept me sane.

Realisation

In the end it sunk in that I was not going to get a job without having worked at something since my last job. Also. I needed some money urgently. I was not getting anything more from the State. I wonder if for people like the Daily Mail accountant, there is a benefit trap which discouraged him from doing some sort of work even if it wasn’t accountancy? I had no such disincentive to work. I had no money coming in, my wife was finding her work more difficult physically, and I hardly married her to live off her earnings. I was the big breadwinner when we met. She might have thought she had “bought a pup” if she had been a less lovely person than she is. Of course she has supported me every step of the way, including financially at one stage.

As you know, I started a business and the rest is history. Except of course it is a complicated history in that firstly I thought it would help get me a job working for someone else, and then I realised that I never wanted to work for someone else again.

My advice to the unemployed accountant and to anyone in that situation is to make an effort to start some sort of business he can do from home. It is all very well complaining about eating cheap food (but the accountant’s chicken casserole to last three days sounds fine and a bit of curry powder will vary it by day three) but what about doing something? That something may be the current experience that gets him a job if he still wants one. Otherwise the business will bring some self-respect, provide some income he can say he earned rather than drew from the State, and may help him plan his future even if that future isn’t the one he was planning just over three years ago.

The new business may be different from the work he did as an employee. If not very different at the start, it might evolve. Mine has.

No more sob stories

I wouldn’t say it isn’t tough finding that employers don’t want us with all our skills. It

All that choice…

is their loss, though. If we sit at home and mope we won’t improve our situation. That is a reality, not some sort of pep talk.

Cheap food? Been there and done it and you can live very well on cheap food, and even have a better diet. Old car? Yes, so what? Forget about the status statement and be practical like the rest of us.

Our 50-year-old accountant was featured on a TV programme which I missed and which is no longer available on-line. I hope his writing a book will bring him some money. Has he started a business? He should. I just hope he gets on his bike. We have, haven’t we? What did you do?

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Redundancy at 50 or even 45 – Part 1

 

Goodbye to all that?

Hard times

There was a story published recently in the Daily Mail about an unemployed accountant who has fallen on hard times. He seems to have lost his employment in his late forties. That is an all too familiar story. It has happened to lots of people in the professions; accountants and lawyers and architects. It has happened to financial services professionals. It has happened to engineers. It has happened to so many skilled workers.

In the Daily Mail story we hear of all those job applications, the financial problems with the income disappearing. The accountant has a professional qualification; a well respected one. The problem for forty-plus applicants seeking a job is that qualifications matter rather less than they did when they were in their twenties.

Recruiters’ insecurity

Every employer is eager to take on newly qualified staff in their twenties. The fact that someone has passed exams is at least an indication that they have some ability to understand how to do the work. It is an indication of potential and of intelligence.

For an older applicant, the employer is more interested in their experience most recently, and generally the sort of work they have been doing, and the level of difficulty of that work. Often someone has become specialised in a particular area, which is no bad thing because niche workers are invaluable if that specialism is a requirement. It is also a difficulty in persuading an employer that someone can adapt to a different role.

The experience of an older job applicant can work against her or him in other ways. Many interviewing business owners of managers may be younger. They may feel uncomfortable at the thought of taking on someone older than themselves. They may worry how an older worker will fit into their team. They may worry that an older worker will know more than they do and embarrass them; “show them up”. So the older job applicant is really up against it in getting new employment.

Cut adrift

Just the same, if someone has been unemployed for a while, they have no recent experience to impress recruiters and that will be a major negative factor for their job prospects. Being seen as being out of the loop is even worse than being seen as a threat to that younger manager.

What would you do in that situation? Should our unemployed 50-year old accountant get on his bike?  I will leave that on until next time.

 

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Panorama of sad tales

Fifties blues

Jobcentre at Galashiels, by Walter Baxter

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.

Patronizing

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.

Start-ups

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.

Are we pre-conditioned for our working lives?

I was listening to a discussion on a news channel this morning in which there was a debate about the new British Coalition’s proposals to get unemployed people to where the work is by helping them re-locate, and how this sat with the review of the current range of benefits, particularly unemployment benefit (known as JobSeeker’s Allowance) and Incapacity Benefit for those deemed unfit to work. There is quite a lot of debate about Incapacity Benefit. Of course the majority who receive it are those for whom it is intended, but there was a suggestion that some long term unemployed receive this benefit because the State currently has no other options.

I do not want to debate these complex issues and there must be people much better able to comment than I. However, what was interesting to me was the general agreement that unemployment in young people in deprived areas was often a culture derived from their parents and sometimes their grandparents; possibly third generation unemployment. One commentator said that she felt that the problem was partly in failing to encourage the young to get a proper education; to pay attention at school. Some parents feel that school didn’t help them to get work so they do not encourage their children.

This seemed to me a worrying view, but when I thought about it I could see the point. It struck me that there is also a culture of employment which tends to make people think that should be their lot. Things have moved on since I started work, but at the time I went for a job in a bank because both my parents worked for banks and it was agreed to be the right thing to do. I only ventured into business on my own account when I lost my (well-paid) job and couldn’t get another of any sort due to a downturn and my more mature status. Running your own business needs a whole different mindset.

I applaud at least one local school which I understand does give near-leavers in the sixth form some time to study independent business – being self-employed – but I wonder how much we are conditioned through parenting and education, or lack of it, to be employed, self-employed or unemployed?

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Have we bred a dependent society?

As part of the election coverage Sky News ran an interview with an IT manager who had been out of work for fifteen months, The angle was to ask what he was looking for amongst the policies of the various parties to encourage him to vote, given that he was apparently a floating voter.

If you have read my posts over the last year or so (and thank you if you have) you will know that I tend to be somewhat unimpressed by those who expect everything on a plate – the “what’s in it for me?” brigade.

It is not that I do not have sympathy for the unemployed. After all I was forced to try out unemployment for myself. After spending a month or so in the gym trying to deal with my angst, I realised that I had to make something happen.

I assume that an IT Manager has some IT skills and is not one of the school which believes that the art of management is telling other people what to do. Surely after fifteen months he has rustled up some activity to make a few pennies to supplement his state benefits? Even if having some earnings reduced his benefits, surely for his own self-esteem he should be doing something to keep his hand in? One thing is certain; few people after a significant period of unemployment can expect to walk back into a job just like the one they used to have. The longer the unemployed do nothing, the more difficult it is to find work.

I had to get my hands dirty doing some things I hadn’t done for years, and a couple of things I had never dreamed I would have to do to earn some money.

I do not claim any virtue. In some situations we act out of necessity. Life is hard for many now, especially on the job front and for the unskilled in terms of options. If we have skills we can adapt, even perhaps drastically, there is no excuse for waiting for the world to come to us. We have to get on our bikes and go out into the world to earn some money.

What do you think?

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