Frustrated twenty-something baristas with Masters degrees; disillusioned PhDs roaming the streets; hordes of discontented unemployed university graduates weighed down with student loans and debt and without any prospects – there is something of a kerfuffle going on, at present, here in Canada, about these issues.
This, of course, is an old debate – the supposed failure of schools and universities to prepare young people for work – that seems to come and go, in waves or cycles, drummed up by governments and the media, and by employers – and much of it founded upon myth and misconception, as the pointed and ever-provocative Alex Usher reminds us in his useful blogs on this and other higher-education-related subjects.
Much less noticed, and spoken about, is the problem of un- and under-employment at the other end of the age spectrum – amongst the over fifties, those who have been retrenched, or fired, or have for one reason or another left their jobs and who – for financial reasons, or because they want to remain active, or because they have something to give back – are trying to find a foothold in a labour market that seems obsessed with youth and uncomfortable with, or sceptical of the value or relevance of, experience.
Why older workers struggle, so often, to get back into the labour market, is the subject of another discussion: that they do, seems beyond question. You don’t have to look far, in LinkedIn groups, on blogs and websites, or in the media, for stories about skilled and experienced, and often quite senior and accomplished people, who have been out of work, and looking, for three, six, nine, eighteen months and longer; nor is it an unfamiliar tale amongst my own acquaintance.
The problem seems to be bad enough, here in North America, for native-born citizens; it is that much worse I suspect for citizens who are minorities; worse, again, for immigrants (I include in this, anecdotally, my own experience); and worse still, for particular kinds of immigrants.
As one aggrieved New Canadian wrote me, when I posted on a LinkedIn group about the problems of finding work as a new arrival:
‘When I immigrated to Canada at age 18,’ he wrote, ‘I witnessed all other immigrants from English speaking countries easily mix and adopt (sic) to Canadian culture, happily welcomed, easily fit and find good jobs. But not the rest of us…. I have seen other immigrants with (sic) medical doctors, engineers, scullers (sic) come to Canada and not even get considered for a job of their profession and forced to take on small jobs like driving a taxi, cooking in restaurants, etc…. You, sir, are a white man, speak perfect English and expect to be credited for all your education and experience!! [people] like you will never experience what the rest of us go through….’
I’m sure he is right. But whichever way you look at it, and no matter where you are coming from (ethnically, geographically, or just plain existentially) the problem of finding work when you are over fifty remains – harder for some, perhaps, than others, but a problem – a challenge, as the motivational speakers like to say – nonetheless.
So how useful are job sites, in helping us Baby Boomers find employment?
My guess is that there are at least two questions here. First – do the job sites serve up useful information; and second, do employers pay attention?
Do they pay attention, in other words, to the people who approach them, through advertisements on job sites and online application gateways? (Speaking of which, how many online applications have you filled in, only to watch as your personal story, your potential value to the employer and your desire to get back into the game all vanish, into a black hole seemingly?)
I have signed up for regular email listings from a score of internet job sites, including Monster and Workopolis, Charity Village and Devex, LinkedIn and various others, and my overall impression is that the technology lags quite far behind the intention – more so in some cases than in others. The bottom line is a lack of intelligence: an inability to serve up targeted and relevant information about job opportunities, no matter how much effort you have put into working through elaborate drop-down lists of assorted criteria.
The emailed job postings I get as a result are, in some cases, almost entirely useless. I have unsubscribed, for example, or I am about to, from both Monster and Workopolis. The more useful ones bury useful information amongst information that is less so, but seem to be generally more accurate and selective – Charity Village being one of my favourites.
In the end, I guess, there’s no easy substitute for the old-fashioned application of one’s own intelligence: job sites can sift through the haystack, and find a more manageable number of needles, but its still up to you to sift and sort again, and find the right one. (There’s a fortune still to be made, by whoever comes up with a truly intelligent online job search platform).
Now that you’ve identified the job, and followed through with your (often online) application, you have to ask – do employers actually read your application?
By all accounts, it is as likely that your carefully worded application will be scanned by software for keywords, long before any human intelligence comes near it, if it ever does. And I have to assume that the software that does this is not much more intelligent than the software that selects the jobs to send us, in the first place.
Which leaves open a rather important question: if I can ‘fill in’ for the limited intelligence of job sites, by taking the time to review the job listings and examine them more carefully, using my own intelligence, is there any way I can ‘fill in’ for the automated algorithms and formula that screen – and, most likely, screen me out – on the side of the employer?
No, not really. Not that I am aware of. Not unless you can actually talk to someone. Preferably someone who knows enough – who has the depth and the breadth of experience – to know what it is I am really offering: not just a ‘hit list’ of catchwords, a bucket of slogans, but someone with judgement, integrity, and – yes – experience.
Perhaps it is time to put the human back into human resources management. After all, isn’t that one of the things we Baby Boomers did: put the human into the public as much as into the private arena?