LETTER: The problems facing the older job applicant.

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With the government wanting us all to work longer and take our pensions later in life I wonder if they have thought about the problems facing the older job applicant, those of us that find ourselves in the unfortunate position of needing to find work later in life.

In my own case there are two reasons for my looking for an employed post at the moment, the first is that due to the recession I’m finding it more and more difficult to find self employed work.

The second is that now, in my mid 50s, despite the fact that I consider myself generally fit and healthy, I’m beginning to find it a bit more difficult to do the very physical work that I’ve done through most of my life.

I have been self employed for over 20 years but periods of work have been getting less and less frequent over the past 18 months, I have still had odd days here and there but nothing consistent.

One of the companies that I worked for as a welder, ‘down sized’ and the other company that I worked for on a regular basis as a blacksmith has not had anything for me for the last six months. Given the lack of this self employed work I decided it was time I started looking for an employed post and I began applying for any positions that I thought I might be sufficiently qualified for, or on some occasions simply interested enough in to do.

Here I am looking for work, I consider myself reasonably well educated with an obvious commitment to further learning, reasonably well read and well qualified academically, with experience and qualifications in various practical, if sometimes a little esoteric, fields.

But this is where I hit the buffers, these days when one as far as I know, can get a degree in sports centre management, it seems almost impossible to get any job, without the relevant, and very specific, bits of paper, and at my age it is either impossible or prohibitively expensive to get the requisite training to acquire these bits of paper.

As an example, I recently applied for a training position in a restoration branch of the building trade, a course of training for which I feel I had an ideal and probably unique set of attributes. I got an interview but was not appointed to the post and it is of course impossible in this situation not to question why this should have been the case.

The obvious answer to this question is age, why should anyone bother to train a 54-year-old who is possibly only going to give a further 10 years of service to the particular trade in question, although I believe age discrimination is illegal I can fully understand this attitude.

There is also the possibility that they considered there was little they could teach someone in my position, and that others may benefit considerably more from the training than I would, this again is a perfect valid reason for not appointing me.

A third possibility, which I don’t think applied in this case, but I think has applied in the past, is that those interviewing can be put off by someone that they think may be more accomplished, academically or practically, than themselves these interviewees are therefore passed over as a potential threat.

A final possibility which is one I come across a lot, is that those that ‘employ’ seem to have a suspicion of those that have been ‘self employed’. They seem to imagine that they are going to be difficult to ‘manage’ and reluctant to submit to instruction. This in my experience is not the case, those that have been self employed know that they have to be conscientious in their dealings with the people for whom they work, or the chances are that they wont find employment with that person or company in future.

The theatre electrical qualification that I did included part of the normal installations course, I have therefore tried to find out if I can update my qualifications to work as a domestic electrician, this also seemed to be impossible without a sponsor to employ me while I went to college, something that at my age I’m not going to find.

I spoke to someone who taught electrical installation at a college who told me that the regulations were now so restrictive that he wasn’t legally allowed to do electrical repairs in his own house despite the fact that he taught those that could. Having had dealings with electrical installations in both France and Greece I find it terrifying that, as far as I understand it, under EU law, electricians from those countries can work in this country whereas I, or the above mentioned college tutor cannot.

These difficulties in obtaining, or being able to afford, training can lead to a reduction in numbers of those entering particular trades and a subsequent increase in the prices charged by those that are qualified and hence can get insurance. This has long been illustrated by the legal and medical professions, it seems impossible these days to find a solicitor or a dentist who actually feels that they need to work a full five day week.

This tendency, if it is not already, will begin to be displayed by those in the skilled trades, a friend of mine was recently charged £110 to have a socket put in a garage, a job that I estimate would take half and hour at the most and involve ten or twelve pounds worth of materials.

Some of these problems are created by the insurance industry that insist that anyone following a particular profession that may involve a risk to the public has gained a specific qualification before they can get cover, a result of the compensation culture I suspect, under which the only real winners are the legal profession and the insurance industry,

I accept of course that potential risk should be covered, I had public liability when ran my own forge, but should the insurance industry dictate to the professions how they are to run their training schemes?

Another problem which concerns me, perhaps more than it concerns others, is the reluctance of many companies to accept applications via any other method than online.

Being an avid reader, I wrote to a local book shop on spec, to ask if there were any vacancies behind the counter. I got a reply from the parent company stating that in the interests of fairness they only accepted applications via their website. I wrote back asking how it could be considered fair to preclude applications via other methods, and that I had always considered exclusivity to be unfair as opposed to fair, I got no reply. I also told them that as they obviously thought it was best for everyone to conduct their lives online, that was where I would be buying my books in future.

In all seriousness however I think that companies that insist on applications via websites are losing out, how do they decide between one candidate and another when both have simply answered the same stock set of questions? There is no, or little room for any display or character or individuality in on line applications, how do these companies get any feel for the personality of their applicants? Or do they wish to weed out, at an early stage, those with any propensity to display personality?

I could apply for jobs online but there is something at the back of my head telling me that I probably really wouldn’t enjoy working for a company with such a lack of imagination that it will only accept applications via this single route.

So even with my varied work history, varied interests and the desire to work, at the age of 54, I can’t find a job,

I therefore question the government’s naivety in assuming that everyone can simply work longer before they get their pension. The fact that it’s not that simple shows yet again just how out of touch the political classes are with the real world.

David Norton,