Ageism In The Workplace

For many people in this country, employment opportunities are being denied because of age…

Should someone now lose their job in their 40s or 50s, the chances of finding new employment in the UK presents a major challenge to even the most qualified of people. The media is now full of stories from older workers telling how they lost their employment through no fault of their own never to return.

Whilst official unempoyment figures may show that some 2.67 million people were seeking work as at mid February 2012, this figure fails to take into account those who may be in low paid part time employment and the many that fail to officially register with the Department of Work and Pensions. Other statistical analysis suggested that there were some 2.8 million people over the age of 45 without paid work in the UK as far back as September 2006.

On 1 October 2006 new laws were introduced to combat age discrimination in the workplace applying to staff under the age of 65. No longer will firms be able to deny an interview, refuse a job offer, deny training or sack someone under 65 on the grounds of age. Sadly this has had very little impact upon the attitude of employers towards the older applicant, yet it is something that is very difficult to prove. So why are so many people in their 50s and 60s without lucrative paid work?

One theory is that people feel discouraged to apply for jobs because of their age, whilst others attribute the inability to work because of health reasons. The older candidate is stereotyped as being inflexible, unable to adapt to new technology, and lacking creativity. They therefore fall outside the demographics of modern business methods. Whilst employers cannot specifically mention age in a recruitment advertisement, subtle phrases such as the ideal candidate will be expected to grow with the young company effectively exclude the older person from applying. In other words, discrimination is being shown but circumnavigates the law.

Another subtle form of discrimination against the older applicant are academic requirements. So many vacancies today specify a university degree, no matter how poor or irrelevant to the job in question that might be. This is fine for the younger applicant as at least 40% of school leavers move into higher education but some 30 years ago this figure was as low as 6%. This means that many older applicants do not meet the basic criteria and are therefore eliminated from the selection process. Potential employers overlook three important qualities here, namely that the older applicant will have considerable business experience, he or she is likely to be professional in their approach to work, and will undoubtedly be more reliable.

How times have changed! Back in the 1970s, nine out of 10 men over the age of 50 were employed. There was an attitude of respect towards the older worker, and in many industries, loyalty was rewarded. The next two decades saw a decline in traditional labour markets as industries closed due to a lack of competitiveness and in a period of rejuvenation, the emphasis on younger staff was born. Those who were in managerial or professional jobs have had most to lose if they were made redundant after their mid 40s.

With so many older people seeking new employment prospects, it is somewhat ironic that the government is forcibly extending the age before official retirement. Whilst this article is predominantly centred on the older generation of unemployed people, it must not be forgotten that there are currently over one million people seeking work in the 16-24 age bracket. Surely it would make economic sense to get some of these people into employment and training instead of prolonging the working life of those approaching retirement age.

Governments fail to acknowledge some of the major implications of long term unemployment. Firstly, people lose their self esteem and motivation as they see little to strive for in the future. In the case of a minority of younger people, this has led to recent riots, as individuals strive to make themselves heard in one way or another. For the older person, the onset of ill health is more prevalent as the mind ceases to function in a disciplined manner. Both scenarios subsequently put a considerable drain on the country’s resources, funds that could be used to support training for young people and, where necessary, paid to companies as an incentive to employ older applicants with the skills, knowledge and experience that are waiting to be exploited.

Anyone reading this who knows me will be well aware that I have first hand experience of age discrimination. Having been made redundant from a middle management position some years ago, I found it impossible to secure another position despite having had several interviews. Even recently, despite attending an interview for a position falling well below my skills and capabilities, the job was offered to a 30 year old! Whilst I am currently self employed and therefore not a statistic in the unemployment figures, I struggle to survive like so many people in a similar situation due to a considerable reduction in my workload over the last two years.

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Onwards and Upwards

The early trials and tribulations of life in the slow lane…

September 2003 saw the fourth month of unemployment after my redundancy with life becoming something of a struggle as developments on the job front were virtually non-existent. Despite having registered with countless employment agencies, progress with potential vacancies was painfully slow. In fact, the cynical side of me began to wonder whether many of the advertised vacancies actually existed as job sites still advertised potential vacancies which were at least three months old! The daily monotony of not having a strict routine was enough to drive me mad and provided plenty of time for self-analysis and reflection.

Not all was doom and gloom though. After suffering from a particularly virulent chest and throat infection for over ten days, I decided to make the most of some unexpected but superb weather and met up with a friend in the city of Salisbury. It had been several years since I was last there, and not surprisingly, quite a lot had changed. The city now has a European feel about it; several streets are traffic-free enabling customers to sit outside bars and restaurants and simply watch the world pass by. However, I feel that there is still room for improvement in relation to the centre’s pedestrianisation as one can suddenly emerge from traffic-free areas on to main thoroughfares without warning! Maybe seven years on, some improvements have been made… I drove round the city recently but avoided the main city centre!

Salisbury, of course, is dominated by its majestic cathedral. Nearby, grounds and parks adjacent to the river are well-maintained, and provide pleasurable walks. Yes! Salisbury is well worth a visit except for one thing…trying to find somewhere to park the car! Driving around the city centre, an absence of car parking signs became very apparent. Eventually, a multi-storey car park was located, but this was designed for short stay use with prohibitive charges for stays in excess of four hours. A central car park in the market place was charging £1.40 (€1.65) for each period of thirty minutes! Whilst walking around, more car parks were discovered, although from where these were signposted is anyone’s guess. Passing buses also advertised Park and Ride but no signposts for this facility were evident on my approach to the city. Heaven knows what the parking charges are now in 2010.

The car park I used operated a pay at machine prior to exit system. There were ample signs telling drivers about this, so why on earth do some people try to leave the car park before paying and validating their ticket? Needless to say, this was just the scenario I encountered upon leaving, as vehicles queued behind a car which could not proceed beyond the barrier. Eventually, this queue was able to pass by exiting via a second barrier whilst the dumb driver simply looked bemused as to why his barrier would not lift. I have a simple suggestion for inept drivers like that…read the bloody signs first!!

The ‘hightlight’ of the month was a 13-week interview at the Job Centre. According to their official bumph, the purpose was to review what an individual had done with regard to finding employment, and to explore further ways in which they might help to secure a new job. As I anticipated, I was confronted by a clerk who simply followed a virtual check-list, and she was completely thrown on the numerous times I interrupted and challenged her. When she asked me what I expected, I suggested that a little empathy would be appreciated. This was obviously a stupid thing to say as she did not understand the meaning of the word. Instead, she kept saying ‘sympathy’ which was not what I was looking for at all. She then said that a search had to be done for possible vacancies that would match my profile. I lost count of the number of times I had tried to explain that my profile was not very accurate, but it appeared that their systems can only fit people into certain categories. The result of the search was two low-paid positions, both of which they had referred to me some four weeks ago!

I make no apologies for admitting that I almost lost my temper with the clerk. All she was interested in was following set procedures and she failed to acknowledge or even comprehend what I was trying to say. The only positive comment she made was that my records showed me to be highly proactive in my search for new employment, although proactive was not the word used…I imagine it didn’t feature in her limited vocabulary!

All in all, a humiliating and demoralising experience but c’est la vie!

Common Courtesy

Another brief trip down memory lane…

Exactly seven years ago this month, most days seemed endless and extremely boring. I was in the early stages of living life without gainful employment and even though I would often grumble about the daily routine of work, it does give a purpose to each day. With typical dull, cold and wet British weather, I had little incentive to venture out of doors, thereby exacerbating an already strenuous situation. Almost daily, my life was taken up with searching for new employment. For anyone not over familiar with this task, it is an extremely time-consuming and wearisome occupation, endlessly scanning the plethora of job sites available on the internet. One of the most frustrating things I discovered was that jobs were not classified under sufficient headings, so in order to find potential opportunities, it was necessary to search under almost every category. Once the slowness of page downloads was taken into account, the hours of the day quickly passed by! Of course, this was in the days before ADSL broadband connectivity was widely available!

In order to try and numb my boredom, I participated in the National IQ Test 2003 via interactive television. This was the one bright spark in a gloomy month… Normally, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet (perhaps that’s where I have been going wrong in life!) but I achieved an IQ of 136 which compared very favourably with the national average of 105! This was also in a period when the average IQ had been falling.

With only twelve days of employment remaining, it was very evident that certain people were keeping their distance. It never ceases to amaze me just how many individuals see a person for what they do rather than for who they are; indeed, inconveniences such as a period of unemployment (through no fault of my own, incidentally!) can prove to be a real test of true friendship.

Looking back, I made one of my final day trips to France. This was predominantly for the purpose of stocking up on some cheap booze…I anticipated being in need of copious quantities to drown my sorrows! There was also time to enjoy some of the local scenery in close proximity to Calais and the weather was fine, in marked contrast to that in Britain at the time. I stated that it was one of my final day trips for several reasons. Firstly, the costs of such day trips are now much higher since the abolition of cheap day ferry tickets. Secondly, the cost of alcohol in this country is now comparatively lower than several years ago, and thirdly, I no longer live within reasonable travelling distance of Dover for the short crossing to northern France. The trip from my local port takes in excess of 6 hours and lands in Brittany!

A final word on the subject of seeking new employment. I found it both frustrating and extremely discourteous that companies seemingly ignored applications and correspondence. Even jobs applied for via e-mail failed to generate a response, despite the fact that it takes but a few seconds to acknowledge a communication with minimal cost. Incidentally, nothing has improved with regard to replies from companies as recent experience will testify. Perhaps I am old fashioned and expect too much from people, but if more common courtesy was extended between human beings, then the world would be a far better place.