Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Herschel's Lesson on Unemployment Over Fifty

Prime Computing, Natick MA
Prime Computer HQ

The posts that I have been writing about unemployment over 50 opened a little door in my memory that had been closed for a very long time.  I went through that door back to when I worked as Corporate Advertising Manager for Prime Computer, one of the two best companies in my career.  We had a small department and for some project—I don’t remember what—we needed some temp help.  HR sent us Herschel. 

He was a very smart man in his mid sixties who was doing temp work while he looked for another job.  Herschel had a strong resume along with a B.A. in math and an M.A. in statistics.  (Did I mention that he was smart?)  Despite his credentials and experience, he could not find a job.  He relied mostly on phone calls and the U.S. mail to conduct his search.  With all the dubious wisdom of a thirty-something, I recommended that he aim to schedule an interview so he could sell himself face to face.

Herschel gave me a sad smile and told me that he couldn’t afford to let people know how old he was right at the beginning or he would never get the job.  This was before the Internet, before online job applications, LinkedIn, The Ladders, Facebook and other social media.  It was possible then to be somewhat circumspect—one might even say reticent--about one’s age just by removing older  jobs from your resume and not including graduation dates.  Today it takes more work with a far smaller chance of success.  There are just too many ways for hiring managers, HR departments, and recruiters to Google your name and find those dates—among other information that will reveal your age.

silver ceiling, #silverceiling
The Silver Ceiling
That conversation with Herschel was my first education on the #silverceiling, a problem that is growing rapidly and will become epidemic in the next five years. 

Herschel was very professional, did a good job for us, and was a pleasure to work with.  He would have been a great addition to any company savvy enough to hire him.  Eventually he moved on to another temp position but I kept in touch with him for many years, visiting his house in Acton (with a barn full of books!) and exchanging Christmas cards.  He never got another full-time job.

A hiring manager might argue that Herschel, because of his age, would not have been able to hold down a job for more than a few years.  The reality, though, is that our young Millenial employees probably won’t even log that much time in one position.  They look for speedy advancement and will move on quickly if they don’t get promoted where they work.  You might get a year or two from them and then have to train a new replacement.

Silver Tsunami, #silvertsunami
Herschel would have given any company that hired him a smart, hard-working and dedicated employee who would have been effective and productive for three to five years.  The same is true of the Baby Boomers who are now entering their unemployable years.  I know too many folks who are intelligent, well educated, experienced, dedicated, hard working and business-savvy but can’t find a job.  From what I read, they are just the tip of the #silvertsunami, a wave of older workers that is swelling by the day. 

Most companies will look at this demographic trend as a liability the country.  A smart company will see an opportunity for themselves.

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