Retirement is not an option

Simon Lukes talks to about his experience of jobseeking as an older worker in the context of Covid.

Job interview surveyed around 2,000 older workers for National Older Workers Week. We also spoke to a selection in depth about their experiences of jobseeking over the last few years.

Simon Lukes has been out of work since September 2018 and has just been offered a part-time temporary contract, covering someone’s maternity leave.

He feels that his age has definitely been a factor in not getting him on some shortlists or not getting interviews over the past three years. He picks up on changes in tone and body language when some recruiters see how old he is – 64. “You get used to it,” he says, adding that, even if he disguises his age on his cv, interviewers can take a good guess when they see him. However, he has had interviews which have focused more on whether he can do the job. For others, though, he gets a real sense that, once interviewers have seen him, they are “just going through the motions”.

He reckons he applies for up to five jobs a week, but says he doesn’t hear back from most. “I think they are looking for someone younger,” he says. It’s not because they think he will be more expensive, as the salary is fixed, but he thinks unconscious bias is at play.

He has encountered prejudiced attitudes, for instance, regarding his ability to work on computers based on his age, despite the fact that a lot of his background centres on IT. To get around the bias he has taken out the dates from all of his employment history prior to his last job and his degree dates.

Covid impact

Simon, from East London, did a degree in electronics and physics and was initially an engineer before moving into housing and then to community development. In 2002 he had to take time out due to a cancer diagnosis. He returned to work in 2005 to a role as manager within a national mental health charity, which he continued until redundancy.

During the first part of the pandemic, Simon continued to do a voluntary IT role and also started doing voluntary work to help others affected by Covid. He helped set up a food bank at a community centre, did shopping for people who couldn’t leave their homes and helped to set up a support group on Whatsapp and to run a support hub at his local community centre so people were not so isolated. He also called around to check in on people in the community who might not have Whatsapp.

As Simon was on Jobseeker’s Allowance, he didn’t qualify for the 20 pounds a week uplift in Universal Credit brought in during the pandemic and has had to use a food bank himself after digging into his redundancy and savings and getting some support from his family. Because most of his work before he was diagnosed with cancer was gig work he has only a very small pension. “I don’t think retiring is a good option for me,” he says.

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