What can we do right now to help people over 55 years old find and keep jobs? I’ve pondered this question since the economic downturn transformed the work+life fit reality of older workers, radically and permanently. Almost overnight, many later-in-life employees were forced into the job market without the know-how to find and compete for scarce opportunities while decimated portfolios changed their retirement expectations. They want to work but countless numbers struggle to find and keep a job.
This bleak employment picture for many over 55 year olds was confirmed in the recently released New Unemployables study conducted by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work and the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University:
- 84% of older workers who were unemployed in August 2009 were still unemployed in March 2010, and
- 67% of older workers reported looking for work longer than a year.
Navigating this new later-in-life work reality requires an updated set of skills as evidenced by the 64% of older job seekers who said that the job search strategies they were using were not helpful, compared with less than half of younger job seekers. So what can be done? The research provides important clues including:
- Teaching workers over 55 years old how to use social media to network and brand themselves and
- Introducing them to new models of later-in-life employment, such as Encore Careers.
Teach workers 55+ years old how to use social media to network and brand themselves
According to the study, “just 13% of older job seekers had used online social networking sites compared to 28% of younger job seekers.” We need to convince older workers (and maybe even younger workers for that matter) that creating a presence and networking online is no longer optional. And we need to show them how to do it, as I did recently with a New York City cabdriver.
A couple of months ago I hailed a cab, and behind the wheel was a well-dressed man who looked to be in his mid 50’s. He smiled in the rearview mirror as I made myself comfortable for the ride uptown.
I’d decided to use the time to catch up on some calls. On one call I must have mentioned that I was on my way to give a speech. Overhearing this, the driver politely asked, “What is the topic of your speech?” I responded “How to manage your work+life fit.” He laughed and said, “Do you have any advice for me?”
He proceeded to explain that he had started driving a cab a couple of months earlier after his 18 months of severance ran out. He had two Masters Degrees and for eight years he had been a project manager for a major online retailer. When the layoffs started, he thought another equally good job would eventually turn up. But after countless promising interviews and not one call back, he had no choice to start driving the cab to make extra money. He sighed, “Any advice for me, lady expert?”
We were about 10 blocks from my stop so all I could think of saying was, “Are you networking with employers on Linkedin?” His confused eyes stared at me in the rearview mirror, “What’s Linkedin?”
What’s LinkedIn? Here’s an experienced technology project manager and he doesn’t know about LinkedIn. It was beginning to make sense. Perhaps the companies that had expressed interest but never followed up were concerned about how current his expertise would be if he wasn’t on LinkedIn?
He dropped me at my stop, and as he pulled away, I could see he was smiling. All I’d done was tell him about LinkedIn but it was enough to give him hope. LinkedIn. So simple. But he didn’t know.
It was déjà vu all over again a few weeks later as I watched a 60 Minutes episode featuring the “99ers,” or people who were running out of their 99 weeks of unemployment. Many of whom were in their 50’s.
The anchor, Scott Pelly, asked everyone in the room to raise his or her hand if they had a college degree (most hands went up,), a masters degree (many hands went up), or a PhD (again, quite a few hands). Understandably, the group was distraught over the position in which they found themselves, but I couldn’t help thinking, “How many of you are actively sharing your knowledge and expertise either in your own blog or in blog comments?” “How many of you are active participants in LinkedIn discussion groups?” “How many of you are on Twitter?” But, no one even asked the question. I wondered if they were like my friend the cabdriver … they just didn’t know.
So what do we do? Those of us who understand social networking and branding (even if we aren’t experts) need to help our older colleagues get started. If you are looking for an accessible, easy to understand, how-to resource, check out Dan Schawbel’s recently re-released book Me 2.0.
I recently had a chance to talk to Schawbel, who is the creator of the successful PersonalBranding.com blog, about my experience with the cab driver and my growing awareness that branding on social media is no longer optional for anyone. Everyone, at every age, must make it an ongoing part of his or her work+life fit, optimally before they need to find a job.
Schawbel agreed and pointed out that if you are not actively networking and managing your brand online then “You are not participating in the global talent pool where more and more of the recruiting is now being done.” He noted that this is especially true for smaller employers who do much, if not all, of their recruiting online.
Introduce older workers to new models of later-in-life employment, such as Encore Careers.
We can also introduce older employees to new models of later-in-life work. Exposure to options that specifically target the unique realities and goals of older workers could combat the struggles with age discrimination, stress, depression and anxiety reported by the participants in the Center for Aging and Work study.
My favorite example of emerging new employment options is Encore Careers. Last weekend I had the privilege (and it was a privilege) to attend the 2010 Encore Careers Awards event. By combining “purpose, passion and a paycheck,” Civic Ventures wants Encore Careers to transform the way older workers think about what is possible.
If you spend time on the Encore Careers site reading and listening to the amazing stories of past Encore Career Award winners you will be blown away. All of these ordinary/extraordinary people have used a lifetime of experience to solve a problem they’ve identified in their communities. During the awards event, at my table alone (one of 20+ tables), I met and was inspired by:
- Barbara Chandler Allen, Founder and President of Fresh Artists, a group that licenses and sells artwork by underserved children to companies and then uses the funds to buy art supplies for the schools these same children attend.
- Richard Paisner, Co-Founder of the Center for Innovative Medicine, a lifelong entrepreneur who is working with Johns Hopkins to rethink the medical delivery model.
- Maria Nagorski, Executive Director of Fair Chance, a group that increases the capacity of other not-for-profits.
And the stories go on and on. Imagine the seemingly intractable problems that could be solved if workers over 55+ years old were shown how to harness their experience and create an Encore Career? In fact, Civic Ventures is so committed to encouraging the Encore Career concept that they’ve just unveiled a new contest called Launch Pad to inspire people 45 years old or older who want to get started. Check it out.
Other online resources that provide both “how to” social media advice and support the careers of older workers include Miriam Salpeter at KeppieCareers.com and Phyllis Mufson, a certified career coach.
What can we do right now to help people over 55 years old find and keep jobs? Two concrete, actionable ideas include helping them learn how to network and brand themselves online, and introducing new ways of working in their later years. We will all benefit from their valuable experience and passion.
What do you think? How have you seen older workers effectively chart the new post-Great Recession work+life fit landscape?