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Careers expert John Lees talks to www.workingwise.co.uk about the challenges for older workers in the post-Covid jobs scenario.
John Lees is one of the UK’s best-known career strategists and author of 15 books on work and careers. How to Get a Job You Love (now in its eleventh edition) regularly tops the list of best-selling careers books by a British author and was twice selected as the WH Smith Business Book of the Month. His other McGraw Hill titles include ‘Get Ahead in Your New Job’, ‘Knockout CV’, ‘Knockout Interview’ and ‘Career Reboot’. Formerly Chief Executive of the Institute of Employment Consultants, John’s expertise as a careers specialist has featured across UK media and is sought by a wide range of commercial organisations, universities and business schools. Workingwise.co.uk spoke to him about the issues for older workers since the pandemic.
workingwise.co.uk: Do you anticipate or are you already seeing a steep increase in people looking for careers advice as a result of Covid, particularly in the over 50s age bracket?
John Lees: There are certainly a lot of people looking for work at the moment or anticipating a forced change of job as furloughing comes to an end. Those most vulnerable to these rapid changes in the world of work are often those who are least confident about what they can offer the jobs market. Those over the age of 50 can sometimes face discrimination or a tough job search, and are understandably concerned about the impact of taking time to retrain or a long job search on their CV.
WW: Do you think there is enough advice and support for over 50s who find themselves out of work due to Covid?
JL: I think it’s fair to say that there is never enough balanced, informed and well-structured careers advice and support for people pushed out of work, and that’s probably as true today as 20 years ago. A great deal of publicly-funded careers support is about education and training routes, but what more mature job changers often need is focus, good communication skills, and improved confidence.
One of the problems is that there is a lot of free information available, not all of it relevant to the UK market. It’s hard to sort through conflicting ideas, for example, about job search strategy or writing a CV.
There are big concerns about forced early retirement. Should employers be signposting people more to services that can help them to adapt to that change and what it might mean for them?
Retirement planning is an important part of career thinking, because it’s an important life decision. Work can provide status, intellectual stimulation, challenges and good company, and so forms an important part of our identity.
Planning for retirement is all about deciding where you want to put your energy. So it’s good to have opportunities to think about the impact of retirement, particularly if it arrives sooner than expected. Organisations aren’t always good at providing support of this kind, so it’s worth looking for people and organisations who can help you think through what it will feel like when work no longer takes up most of your energy and concentration. Start by experimenting with a variety of activities rather than one big commitment – and think about what you’d like to learn, to keep the brain active. Or perhaps part-time working could provide an interim step before full retirement?
WW: Everyone’s circumstances are different, but what would be your main advice for someone finding themselves redundant in a sector which has been badly hit by the pandemic who might need to consider alternative sectors? Where should they begin?
JL: It’s a very smart move to consider alternative sectors rather than apply for jobs where competition increases as the number of jobs decreases. This might be a good moment to reinvent yourself, or find the most convenient next step. Either way it’s a good idea to decide what you want to take from your past to your future. What do you enjoy most about work? How can you find that enjoyment in a new setting?
Think also about transferable skills. People often think that a change of career means starting again at the bottom, but you will have skills, knowledge, experience and connections that will be valuable to a new employer – as long as you learn how to communicate them in language that a hirer recognises as relevant and useful.
WW: What are likely to be the sectors with jobs growth?
JL: At times like this it’s important to be a trend-spotter – identifying those work sectors in decline and those on an upwards curve. Look at online vacancies and the roles being filled by agencies – these are a good indicator of organisations in a hurry to fill vacancies.
At present the trend seems to be that customer-facing roles are on the decrease, especially in retail and hospitality. However, there are already signs of skills shortages in some areas, including healthcare, technology, distribution and call centres. It’s good to be able to offer skills that you can use while working from home.
WW: How does forced redundancy affect confidence and how can this be rebuilt?
JL: Redundancy is often a negative experience, forced or negotiated because it feels that your contribution to the organisation is no longer valued or important. It’s worth taking that seriously because it leaves you vulnerable to further dents to your confidence.
The best way to rebuild confidence isn’t random job hunting – this generally leads to silence and zero feedback. Take time to decide where you are heading, and what you need to get there. Catalogue what you are good at and take time with supportive colleagues to practise talking about your career history and what you can offer next. Meet regularly with two supportive, positive-minded friends who remind you what you’re good at and encourage you to keep opening doors.
WW: How should you position yourself when jobseeking to counter ageist attitudes?
JL: Ageism isn’t hard to find in selection processes, but it’s also worth remembering that the hardest hit generation is under the age of 25. Your age matters more to hiring organisations if you draw attention to it. Take the emphasis off work and learning you did more than 10-20 years ago and provide detailed evidence of what you have done recently – and how you have kept your skills up to date. Learn how to use digital tools and social media, otherwise you immediately rule yourself out of some recruitment processes.
WW: Do you think it will be easier to find flexible new roles, in particularly remote working roles?
JL: Remember that organisations are more interested in the way problems are solved at work than how the work is done. 2020 has been an international experiment in homeworking, and organisations have learned to be deeply flexible about how and where work is done. That said, don’t make flexible working your primary demand. Show enthusiasm for the role and interest in its challenges and make it clear where you will add value or make a difference. When the organisation is interested in you (and not before), explore the options for flexible working.
*John is joining www.workingwise.co.uk’s expert panel. If you need any specific, tailored advice from John, please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.