Back to work after Covid insecurity

John James talks to about how his Covid experience played out. We last spoke to him in late 2021 when he was struggling to find work.



John James* spent much of Covid unemployed or in uncertain self-employed work after being made redundancy in 2019 and finding it very difficult to make a living.

James was made redundant in June 2019 from his job as a construction manager in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. His role involved putting up buildings and installing equipment in the tissue making industry.

James, who is in his late 50s, received a good redundancy payment and was thinking of taking some time out. However, he was approached by people he had worked with before who offered him contract work. So he set up his own company. He was getting a good lot of work before Covid hit when his five-year plan for the business was “blown out of the water”. He had to stop the job he was working on in early 2020 and didn’t work for the first 10 weeks after the first lockdown. After that he worked intermittently during the best part of the pandemic, with at least four work gaps of more than eight weeks. In November 2022 he turned his back on the uncertainty of self employment and returned to employment.

He says: “COVID is what stopped a lot of original works and carried over followed by the Ukrainian war and high steel prices which meant projects were put on hold. Since I have gone back into employment it looks like lots of the projects have become live again, but I have moved on.”

James, who now works full time on similar pay to his previous employed job, did not qualify for any support during the pandemic and had to rely on his savings – and it was because these were dwindling that he decided to look for a job.

He thinks part of the problem he had with work was down to ageism. In late 2020 a recruitment consultant persuaded him to do a cv review. He was told that there were too many details on his cv that revealed his age and to only tell recruiters his age if they asked because employers would want someone who had at least 20 years to go until their retirement. “I was told to take the first 12 years of my employment history, including my qualifications, off my cv,” says James. Asked how that made him feel, he says “disappointed”.

He did, however, get more interviews as a result, including some outside his sector, but at the end of the day he didn’t get the jobs.

This is despite the fact that he had kept his skills up to date. Although James has a degree and  many externally recognised construction and safety qualifications, he also has many in-house qualifications which are not externally recognised. So during the pandemic he had taken some project management courses to gain more qualifications.

“Employers seem to want someone with 20 years’ experience but for the pay of a person with two years’ experience,” he says.

*Not his real name.

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