Let’s imagine an older jobseeker – we will call him George – as he struggles to find his way back to work – let’s say he is 56. In his job, George was liked and wanted. “Good old George” he was often called. But George has lost his job through redundancy. If his journey follows the pattern of many others, he will find it hard to find work.
George* won’t bother to register at the Jobcentre right away, because his redundancy payment disqualifies him from receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance. Not registering, however, means his job search gets off to a slow start.
His health is fine and he really wants to carry on working, but George has a lot to learn about looking for a job.
To start with, he limits his searches to jobs at the same level as his former role and with the same rate of pay. ‘Why come down?’ he thinks. But in so doing, he rules himself out of jobs that are realistically ‘do-able’.
After some months of looking, a feeling that age may be a barrier to work grows upon George. Whilst it certainly is a factor in some of his failures, he becomes consumed by the thought of it, believing that noemployer will take him on. Perhaps it affects the way he comes across to them.
After six months, George’s redundancy pay is spent and he registers at the Jobcentre to claim his Jobseeker’s Allowance. The adviser who interviews George informs him that he must be a genuine jobseekerand that failure to put his back into job hunting means he will not be entitled to the allowance.
So George signs a ‘Jobseeker’s Agreement’, undertaking his best endeavours to find work and he starts on a feverish hunt for a job. Not having worked for a while doesn’t help.
He wants to show he has been busy and demonstrates this by making lots of applications. George learns to tour the job websites, including the Government Universal Jobmatch website where he sees jobs that emphasise requirements such as ‘energy’, ‘vigour’, ‘flexibility’: all words that George has now learned to associate as synonyms for youth.
However, George hones his CV and fires off dozens of applications. Continued failure however means his confidence wanes. George wonders whether he should accept that he is now pressing 58 and in a couple of years he will be entitled to a reduced pension from his employer. ‘Retirement’ may be his best option.
Lowering his ambitions and applying for different and more junior jobs doesn’t seem to work. He knows he could do them but employers expect him to be experienced in the specific role. And anyway he is ‘too old’ to learn, isn’t he?
George gets invited to attend a few interviews but the process has changed since he last looked for a job. His interviewers are a lot younger than he is. He feels they don’t seem to value his experience and appear to be interviewing him by tick box.
So the story goes on and by now George is one of the long-term older unemployed. George realises that time is passing him by but doesn’t know what to do about it. What could be done to help him?
George’s journey is typical of many of his age who lose their jobs. The system is against him. He really needed someone to support him right from the outset.
Someone should have told him how people can really get jobs at his age through contacts and social relationships. He would have benefited from some IT training in a specific work package perhaps, got on the ‘interim’ worker bandwagon or even done a spot of volunteering to keep himself active. He needed to understand the job search process better, have a strategy, be proactive in making contacts and tailor his CV to each job he applied for. George needed to learn ‘smart’ job hunting, but nobody ever taught him.
And now look at him. He is reconciling himself to never working again and describes himself as ‘early retired’.
Perhaps he will be lucky. There are new specialist 50+ back-to-work projects coming along, which could give him a chance. With luck, he might happen upon TAEN’s 50+ Works: A Guide for Older Jobseekers or maybe land in a Shaw Trust 50+ project (there have been three in South Wales, including the newly opened Opportunity 50+, covering West Wales, whose advisers I met last week.
We know enough about this journey to be sure that without something different coming along, George will not be working again. He didn’t mean it this way, he really wanted to continue working. But if that’s the way it is, so be it. George will put up with it.
After all, he was always known as “Good old George”.
“TAEN/ Shaw Trust are preparing for fresh 50+ Back to Work projects. Age Action Alliance members interested in working in partnership should contact Chris.Ball@shaw-trust.org.uk or tweet on @taen_uk
Follow TAEN on @taen_uk and Chris Ball on @crystal_balls”
Chris Ball – Specialist Adviser on the Ageing Workforce
* I acknowledge Professor Sarah Vickerstaff of the University of Kent, for the name of this fictional character.