As an Employment Counsellor, I sit down with a wide spectrum of individuals who are either out of work entirely or underemployed and looking to find a better position. So I meet with people young and old and one of the first things I like to ask is the individuals best guesses as to what stands in their way. Almost without fail, those in their late 40’s or older cite their age as the first thing that comes to mind.
Now this could be for a couple of reasons; either the person has been actually told they are too old by an employer or they feel too old to do whatever work is required in the job(s) they hold as their first choice. In other words the issue of age is external or internal. It’s also possible that both are present simultaneously; you’ve been told you’re too old and you feel it.
If and when the time comes when you hear you’re too old to do the job you’ve got the same power you’ve always had in one key respect which is how you react. In some lines of work, the physical toil on the body, the aches and pains become more acute and require more recovery time. Just as the Coach on a sports team wants the fittest athletes in the game, it’s easy to understand why an employer wants the fittest workers on their payroll when the job demands it.
Okay that’s not hard to understand if we look at things objectively. The Construction industry for example is one field where the physical demands of the job have a lot of people in their early 50’s citing back and knee pain. The folks I’m listening to admit their bodies can’t take the requirements of the job day in and day out like they did in years past, but at the same time they have lots of expertise and experience to contribute and still want / need to keep employed. So the problem shifts from trying to compete with younger, stronger and overall healthier labourers who cost less money per hour to finding a way to leverage their skills and experience in some different role then they’ve had.
And here my readers you’ve come to the crux of the real problem or challenge; the fear of changing one’s role or career; the question of what to do. This is THE question that needs answering. “What can I do at my age when this is all I’ve ever done? This is what I know.”
This problem isn’t limited to the Construction Worker. I’ve met Car Detailers who have lost their jobs or had to quit because the work became too physically demanding. Or rather, the work didn’t change at all but the body of the person doing the job has. I’ve met athletes who, unable to perform at the high levels they once did are now out of work looking for the first time for a job or career outside of sport and the question they ask is identical: “What can I do because this is all I’ve ever done?”
Sometimes the solution is to stay within the industry or field where one’s expertise is valued and just change your role. Become the Trainer, the Consultant, the Health and Safety Ambassador, the Coach. However, there’s the issue of yes knowing how to do the work but now needing training on how to actually impart all you know to those you’d be charged with teaching. Just because you were a fantastic worker or star athlete does not mean you are qualified to share what you know to others. That job, to give it it’s due, requires some investment of your time to fully respect those who teach and mentor.
On the other hand, there comes a point for many when you’ve got to leave the employer you worked for or move outside the field altogether. Without the comfort of the surroundings you’re used to, it can be a scary proposition wondering what else to do with the time you’ve got left when you want to be productive and contribute.
One of the best things you can do is to take stock of your assets. Just as a Mechanic or a Carpenter knows his or her inventory of tools, you’d do well to sit down and list all the strengths and assets you have. For many this is a hard exercise because you can walk into a shop and take in all the physical tools you see, but taking stock of your personal skills and experience and properly labelling those assets is challenging.
Start with your own point of view and then ask others for their opinions. Be honest, objective and drop the inclination to get defensive. ‘Know thyself’ could never be truer. Okay so you’ve got a list going and that’s great. Now you need to do the same with your liabilities. A Mechanic or Carpenter knows when their tools need sharpening and upgrading. You’d do well to acknowledge what you need to improve on and then like them, go about upgrading your own tools. This could mean anything from taking a course to complete your grade 12 to heading back to school to get your degree.
Everyone is unique; so too is your situation. Feel like packing it in and giving up? As an older worker you’re never done unless you act done.