There has been a lot of news lately on how being over 50 is a handicap when it comes to finding a new job. Realistically as the NY Times points out, along with a large body of research on being over 50 and looking that they will spend significantly more time looking for a gig. There is also a growing realization that the odds are highly likely that if you are 50+ and just got laid off – you just finished your last traditional job.
I am looking right down the barrel of this one, I am 46 and already I feel the tugs of being unemployable starting to show up while looking for a traditional job. I am not talking about “do you want fries with that” kind of jobs, but jobs in offices making cool stuff or doing interesting things. What has been interesting though as I run through this process is the jobs that are showing up or that I am being asked to apply for. The number of independent jobs in places like direct sales, insurance, and franchises has been an interesting process to observe, even if I am unsuited to direct sales, and this points to a seriously broken hiring process through the big job boards like Dice and Career Builder.
While it seems like the job market is focusing on youth, the younger set without as many attachments as older workers do. The youth set comes in general without kids, cheaper medical and dental, fewer distractions outside of work, as well as the willingness to put in a lot more than 40 hours a week because they can. That and younger workers still believe in the hype of companies, come work for us and make millions not realizing that the reality is that 40 to 60% of all new companies fail in one form or another making that lottery style payoff much harder to accomplish. Older workers have already been there, they know the odds of pay off in a lottery style job are much harder than the press would have you believe. For every winning instant millionaire company like Google – there are dozens of companies that have failed in a big way leaving disappointed investors and employees in their wake.
What has been interesting to watch is what I have seen a lot of my own over 45 friends start to do on their own after having seen the writing on the wall. While my friends are just an example of what can be done – this is with the understanding that as job seekers we are all different in what we need. You can see this difference in my group of friends because of their own personal needs. Some have kids getting ready to go to college, others have no children and dual incomes, and others have saved up a very large pile of money, while others are living paycheck to paycheck. The risks they take are in commiseration to the risk they are willing to take to start their own company or find their next job. There is also the desperation factor – the relationship to how long they have been looking for a job, and what the state of their finances are.
Some of my friends are in the startup industry in one form or another, some are taking some very risky approaches to working using a freemium model (link here to article), others are starting their own companies (much like I have been doing for the last three years in October), while others are seriously downsizing their lives and learning to live within the incomes that they have, what little that is. All of these people are highly skilled, and highly motivated to do what it takes to earn any kind of income under their own terms. Some have gone out to Elancer and other free lance systems to find piece work, while others are starting their own high and low technology companies.
Not everyone is going to be able to start their own company. There is a lot of stability to the paycheck that just does not exist in the startup world. Startups can be very hard to do, and if you do not have good business instincts – then a startup is not the environment you want to be in. There are some people by nature who are very tied to the idea of one job, one company, and one life. Much like I would be very bad in direct sales or selling insurance – some people do not make good entrepreneurs.
Some of my friends are very conservative and do not believe that they can start their own company. Rather the norm for them is to sweat it out and work towards getting the steady paycheck and benefits. Many of my friends who are doing this have been unemployed 20 weeks or more, and are very fussy about what they will take as a job. They have bills and overhead that they need to pay for, they are looking for a job that pays in the higher 90’s or more to help them pay the bills. The higher 90’s jobs are very scarce as these can usually be filled by a couple of younger kids with less overhead than the senior manager positions. Management much like in the divestiture of management in the 70’s and 80’s is going through a brutal reduction in ranks that will be a long time being filled.
The real question then is given that being age 50 is looking a lot like being age 18, where you get to decide what you want to do as the parents are booting you out of the house, what do you want to do? While there might not be much opportunity in mega corps – there might be opportunity to do something else that is meaningful and worthwhile. There are many ways of making money, just not the huge salaries that companies can afford to pay for the right talent. This might be a great time to work in non-profits, education, social services, or other positions and companies that will benefit from the older worker. Which sets up an interesting dynamic in my own mind, if the older worker starts working on socially relevant causes and knowing that they are a huge workforce for good, the corporations are going to continue to focus on cheap and fast, while non-profits take advantage of the huge talent pool that is suddenly available to them? This ought to be interesting to see what the older generation does as it works out what they want to do during their second bloom.
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- “Older Workers: Fears of Never Working Again” and related posts (economistsview.typepad.com)
- Wandering in the Desert of 50-and-over Unemployed (crooksandliars.com)
- NYT: ‘The new unemployables': Workers over 50 (msnbc.msn.com)