So you're middle-aged, a key player at work with a responsible position. You are a great performer, known to make sacrifices for your job and your company. You are well liked by your employees and more importantly by your boss. Does that make you bullet proof from the retrenchment? Well the answer is probably no.
When a company decides to lean up or downsize more often than not it is the older employees who bear the brunt of redundancies. Yes the USA has the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against workers and certain job applicants 40, but age discrimination is hard to prove and when push comes to shove if your company wants let you go, irrespective of your performance and value, you will be shown the door.
There are several reasons why companies do choose to lay off older employees such as:
More and more jobs are being made redundant by technology. This has been obvious for some time in blue-collar jobs such as manufacturing, where robots are able to perform many of the tasks that once required a real person. However, displacement by technology is also becoming more common in more highly skilled jobs such as administrative functions, and even complex technical jobs such as engineering. While a computer can't do everything required of skilled professionals like accountants and engineers they can dramatically improve efficiency, therefore requiring significantly fewer positions for the same workload. Don't ever think your job is safe from being replaced by technology. It is estimated that in the USA over 4 million jobs have already been displaced by technological change1 .
People talk of the extremely fast pace of change in the world these days, but I’m sure if you sat down and talk to your parents they would have thought this was the case during their working lifetime. Changing society, and with it changing demands in the labour market, has been a fact of life for every generation before us and will be for future generations. Being able to stay in the same job your entire working life has never been easy, and is now pretty much impossible.
Recent examples of change which have impacted, and are continuing to impact, labour markets are:
Large conventional shopping malls are closing, and some major shopping chains are close to bankruptcy, in a big part due to the rise in online shopping. Traditional retail jobs are disappearing.
The move away from carbon intensive fossil fuels and improved efficiencies in consumption of fossil fuels continues to reduce demand for oil and natural gas. While we are yet to see the last internal combustion engine role off the production line, demand for fossil fuels may well have peaked or be close to peaking. The 2014 decision by Saudi Arabia to protect its production share of global oil industry dramatically reduced the value of oil and gas leading to mass industry layoffs. The industry is now in the throes of recovering from this downturn which saw approximately one third of the global work workforce without a job.
The potential for future large scale employment shocks are relatively easy to see in almost any industry, with the capability to dramatically reduce jobs for specific sectors, professional and blue collar positions alike. In the world of accounting for example, it would only take the government's decision to greatly simplify state and federal taxes, to say a flat tax with no deductions, and then the demand for accountants would suddenly fall off a cliff.
Yes, some jobs are transferable across industry, so a downturn in one industry may yield opportunity in another industry on the rise. The trouble with a middle-aged worker is that a large part of his or her employment value is intrinsic in the specialised skills that pertain only to a particular company in a particular industry. These skills will not necessarily be valued in other companies or industries.
Companies are also reluctant to hire middle aged workers, for many reasons. For example, rightly or wrongly, older employees are often seen as low energy, and reluctant to change and accept new technology.
Some people are happy working in the same company in the same functional role for most , if not all, of their working life. However, many men want new challenges or simply a change in job, particularly in middle age. Some may have finally realised that they dislike their chosen career, or may have decided that 30 years or more in the same industry or the same job function is just no longer personally fulfilling.
When you think about it those who desire a career change are the lucky ones. Firstly, it is likely they already have an idea of what they want to do for the rest of their working life, which can be difficult to establish. Simply not liking where you are at now does not lay out a road map for the future. Identifying your new career is most of the battle in making a career change. Secondly, having determined that you need a career change while you are still working allows opportunity to plan and make the change with less financial disruption to you and your family.
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