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.


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.

Ageism, realism and working life in the twenty-first century

My starting point

Lake District work opportunities

As many of you may know, when I lost my job nine years ago I came to realise that at the age I was, I was not allowed to have another employment. I was too old, by which I mean I was somewhat over forty. It took a while for me to understand that was the problem. For a while I laboured under the illusion that there were not many jobs about and that was why the recruitment agencies had trouble finding me interviews. Ageism is a bitter pill to swallow, as many people who have just come out of employment will be finding out.

My solution

Realistically, the only way I could earn a living was to start my own business. That is why I call myself an “accidental entrepreneur”. I have actually set up several businesses because I had to get money coming into the household. I had a specialist field from my employment days, but I also had to do whatever it took to try and achieve some inflow of money.

Over the years since and especially at the beginning I had various short term contracts and also took subcontracted work from another firm. Effectively the services I provided have helped businesses to avoid taking on an employee. I had no security in doing what I did.

Two of the firms I helped just told me they didn’t need me any more, one with no notice at all; I had no expectations of a continuing presence with them so I had to shrug my shoulders and move on to the next assignment, and of course I had been steadily building up my own business and individual clients. My business is both B2B and B2C, to use the jargon. It is a long while since I had to depend on just one or two clients for an income stream. Nowadays I subcontract quite a lot myself. It is an efficient way of doing things.

The ageist job market

Not much has changed since I left employment for the last time. If anything, the work market for older people is much worse. There is legal protection against age discrimination within an employment but once a reason for redundancy is identified or contrived there is little an employee can do.

Age discrimination in the job market is hard to prove. One can be annoyed by an ad such as the technical writing opportunity for a “newly qualified” person I saw yesterday. Newly qualified? We know what they mean.

Older people want to work. They are just not allowed to be employed, as Julian Knight reminded us the other day when writing in the Independent. Apparently there are those who think that older workers are just standing in the way of the young. I agree with the hypothesis that a younger manager would rarely think to take on a person twenty or thirty years older because

  • the person will be too slow
  • the person will be off sick a lot
  • the person will show up the manager by knowing more and being better than he or she is

We know that most “old-hands” would take fewer sickies, be as quick as anyone and know better than to embarrass the manager, but these prejudices remain.

The work market of the future

I don’t claim to have second sight, but since I started my businesses I have ploughed the furrow which many others have to do or will in the future. Realistically, the bureaucratic burdens on employers and their prejudices over age will need them to be more interested in taking people on short-term ad hoc contracts where there is no long term commitment on either side. The current employment laws both on the HR side and in relation to tax do not match up yet, but Seth Godin said recently “In the post-industrial revolution, the very nature of a job is outmoded.”  I agree with that.

I think that employment rights are going to have to be watered down to relieve the employment law red tape mess that businesses have to suffer. In the future, there will be no such thing as a job in the old sense, and there isn’t even now for many over-forties, which is why so many of us are already out there in the brave new twenty-first century. There will be more mobility, which surely is a good thing?

How do you feel about this?

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