“When you hit 50, they don’t hire you any more. It’s like they can smell 50,” said Steve Martin’s character in the 1999 film Bowfinger. And unfortunately, ageism does still exist at work, even in 2016.
Steve Anderson is founder of recruitment consultancy Prime Candidate, which focuses on getting ‘older’ workers at all levels into work. He set up his business in 2015 after moving from London to Weston-super-Mare and finding it difficult to get a job, having thought that with his age and experience (he was just turning 50), it would not be a problem.
“I had all sorts of experiences, from local recruitment agencies saying ‘we don’t deal with people like you’ to situations where I was applying for work that very much suited my experience but at the first contact with an agency I was being screened by a young person… it was clearly a tickbox exercise and I’m convinced my age was an issue for them.”
Anderson was lucky enough to have senior contacts, having been a commercial and operations director, so he found out who the hiring manager was and went to speak to them direct. He’s also one of a raft of ‘older’ entrepreneurs who are setting up businesses: figures suggest that entrepreneurs are more likely to be successful at 50-something than they are at 20-something.
People are embarrassed that they have lost their jobs and may not have told friends. But most jobs are found through networking and people that are close to you
But he wanted to help people find work at all levels, with roles currently on the Prime Candidate site including school catering assistants, business development roles and local government team leaders.
Prime Candidate is also a service provider for Jobcentre Plus, helping people back into work. The government jobs agency has come under the spotlight recently in Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake, featuring a Newcastle joiner who is unable to work due to ill health. Blake finds himself ineligible for ESA (employment and support allowance) benefits, so is obliged to look for work via a Jobcentre Plus, which is portrayed as a sometimes difficult and frustrating process.
“They are under pressure to perform like all government departments, to do more with less cost, and maybe outsource,” says Anderson. “They saw a great opportunity for us to help and support them for one of their vulnerable groups.”
What to do if you’ve lost your job
People often go through three stages, Anderson explains. “At first it’s the shock of being made redundant, so how do you react to that and what do you do about it. Then you’re a bit angry and you start doubting yourself, but then one has to accept the situation and get on with doing something about it.”
The first thing to do is not close yourself off from other people, and talk to your family and friends about it.
Employers include LGBT, gender and ethnicity in their diversity policies, and age is part of it. But a lot of organisations just haven’t tackled the age issue
“More often than not, people are embarrassed that they have lost their jobs and may not have told friends. But it’s still true today that most jobs are found through networking and people that are close to you. Just by [telling people means that] you can find new opportunities and get introduced to someone.”
Anderson suggests that if you are out of work, regardless of your background, you ask yourself two questions: what are you good at, and what do you like doing?
“Often, you get two different answers… if you start looking to blend the two ideas and look at how skills and experiences can be transferred, it opens up their minds to a wider job search.”
He advocates making sure achievements are listed on the first page of CVs, using action verbs such as negotiated, prepared or saved.
Once you are confident and knowledgeable of your skills and what you can offer, your interview performance will improve, says Anderson.
Employers’ role in recruiting a range of ages
Larger employers, which have diversity policies in place, often miss out age in their efforts to include people from a variety of backgrounds, says Anderson. “They include LGBT, gender and ethnicity, and age is part of it. But a lot of organisations just haven’t tackled the age issue.”
In 2014, former pensions minister and older workers’ champion Ros Altmann, encouraged employers to ‘retain, retrain and recruit‘ older workers, saying: “We need a new mindset: one that accepts that chronological age does not determine ability to work. Most people are still fit and well at much older ages than before.”
Businesses are beginning to understand that there is a potentially untapped group of people who are pre-retirement and keen and able to work, such as Barclays, whose apprenticeships now include those of all ages, and advertising agency SapientNitro, which has launched a ‘returnship‘.
Tips for getting a new job
John Lees, author of How to get a job you love, gives his tips for finding work.
- Take stock in a constructive way. “Don’t go near important decision-makers (including recruitment agencies) until you’ve got a fairly clear idea of what you’re looking for. The most difficult message is ‘life has been unfair to me’, because no-one can respond to that in a constructive way, and the second is ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do next’, because you’ll get sympathy, but not help.”
- Make your age an advantage. “You still have a huge advantage because you have work experience and employable skills. But when you draw attention to their age, they draw attention to their lack of current awareness, and start to talk themselves out of job opportunities.”
- Challenge the assumptions employers make about older workers. “You understand the assumptions employers make about older workers and you deliberately challenge those in the way you present your material. One assumption is that older workers have no interest in up-to-date technology and social media – that’s quite easy to challenge. Another is that you are looking for a quiet life. Although older workers believe the labour market is unkind to them, the people that find it hardest to get work are 16 to 24 year-olds.
I had wealth of skills at my fingertips and nobody wanted them
Tony lost his job as a learning specialist at a female prison in Stafford in 2014. He was 54. “I had a wealth of experience in adult learning, and I tried through the Jobcentre to find employment but I wasn’t very successful. Then I got a part-time job on a Saturday, working for Asda as a home shopping driver, but that meant I couldn’t claim some benefits.
During the time I was unemployed I applied to in excess of 630 jobs, for a whole range of organisations. There was a wealth of skills I had at my fingertips and nobody wanted them. That’s the frustrating thing. You think ‘I would love to demonstrate to you that I can do this work’ but no opportunities were available.
It’s very demotivating when you don’t get a response, or the one you get is automatic. I invariably would try and chase those up: sometimes they’d say we’ve had too many applicants, we couldn’t go through them all. They just automatically denied you without even looking at your CV.
Then via the Jobcentre I came across the Employment Plus team at The Salvation Army. I got a case worker and we went through in detail what I should be looking for and going through my CV. I was keen to get back into supporting adult learning in some form and went on a number of interviews.
Then my daughter suggested I look at driving buses, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and I went into the process in February 2016 and I passed my test to be a driver for National Express today.
My advice to other people is to look at the skills that you have. Those that you’ve trained up and qualified in may not be getting you where you want to be so think about the other skills and experiences gained throughout life. I took on voluntary work and that was one of the best things I ever did. I was working with Age UK as a volunteer tutor.
Voluntary work means you can maintain some sort of civility with your partner, because being in the house all day really isn’t the best thing in the world, so you get out and meet other people. And you can put your life skills into place.
Don’t give up.
- For more information on The Salvation Army’s Employment Plus scheme, visit workforall.salvationarmy.org.uk