Dean Barber

Listen to the Boomers’ Stories

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2012 at 2:15 am

Many of us are quite adept at telling anyone who will listen about how the world is and how it should be. As a writer of this blog, I am particularly guilty of this.

But sometimes, it’s just better to shut up and listen. And that is what I intend to do in this installment. I am going to let others – principally the jobless and principally the jobless in their 50s — speak. I’ll simply be a conduit for them, the boomers.

Some of you, no doubt, will not approve and a few might even somehow find offense. (One man wrote to me recently saying that virtually everything that I wrote was, in his words, “crap.” I made a point to send him my next blog.)

But I neither hope nor suspect that everything I write will meet your approval or agreement. That is an impossible task, even for the best of blatherers. Rather, the sole purpose of this blog, which centers on topics mostly of an industrial/economic development nature, is to merely get you to think.

If I could ask one thing of you, it would be to suspend judgment, at least temporarily, as you read and contemplate these very personal stories. You may not agree with the world views of our story tellers, but then again, you may not have walked the proverbial mile in their moccasins.

You might think their life-coping or workforce skills aren’t as accomplished as your own. If so, then consider yourself blessed. But do not think of them as somehow morally flawed or lesser people. I find it incredible that there is a prevalent view, especially among some younger corporate turks and HR departments, that anybody who found themselves cut from the employment rolls essentially had it coming.

I am reminded of a quote from the movie Unforgiven: “We all have it coming, kid.”

Many of the people quoted below may sound discouraged, but most continue to live with hope and dignity, which is rather admirable.

Some are responding to recent blogs that I’ve written about manufacturing and training. Others are responding to a Bloomberg news story about how the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting that there were about 3.5 million job openings at a time when nearly 13 million people are officially searching for work.

Not surprisingly, if there is a common thread here, it would be suffering, which has been a part of the human condition since we’ve been human. But it is precisely because we are human that I figure we owe it to our fellow man to sometimes be quiet and listen.

You’ll find no profound answers or solutions in this blog. My simple premise is there may be some value for you – the employed (if you are employed) – hearing from them — the unemployed.

So here are their voices. And now I will shut up.

Peter wrote this to me, maybe because he read that my father had worked in grey iron foundries all his life.

“I am a second generation foundryman who has served on the producer and supplier sides of the industry, has helped turn around a company, authored an article in the AFS (American Foundry Society) research library. Though I never wanted employment in any other industry, I’ve been shut out of employment in nearly everything for 11 years.

“I’ve stopped searching in my own industry since one company actually told me they thought I wouldn’t be able to learn the changes over the past 10 years! Same alloys, same furnaces, same raw materials.”

Valencia wrote this in response my recent blog on manufacturing training: “It’s hard to believe we don’t have enough manufacturing employees, I have 15 plus years of experience and have been trying to get back to work for over a year. What does one have to do to get back to work? I still have many good years to give to an employer.”

His screen name is PowderBud and he tells of the difficulty of finding work precisely because he is out of work.

“I have been one of two finalists for positions multiple times only to lose out because the other candidate was working and I was not. It got so bad for me that I took a job outside my industry and for less pay just to keep working and paying my bills. I’ve been penalized for that in interviews.

“Recently I lost another job opportunity because I wasn’t working currently. Since it was clear I wasn’t going to change this hiring managers perspective I asked him “have you seen the news in the past couple years?” His response: “Anyone who is worth hiring wouldn’t have been caught up in that stuff”. This is the mentality out there now by people who have jobs, that only worthless people don’t have jobs.”

The writer calls himself ajym66, and he lays the issue of skills gaps at the doorstep of many employers who complain that they cannot find qualified people.

“It’s about skills? Skills can be learned. Most employers want someone from a competitor that can get running on day one. They don’t want the expense of training someone who may be willing and able to do the job and learn the skills.”

Barbara used to manage a small business but found herself without a job.

“I have been unable to get hired.  I am over 50 and do not have a college degree.  I have been told that “we are looking for a college degree,” or “wow you are much older than we thought,” or “you haven’t worked since 2010,” or “boy are you overqualified,” or “you ran a business why would want to work for me?” or “I can’t pay you what you were earning,” etc.

“I took a seasonal part time job setting up weddings and serving food during last summer in order to look employable.  Well, all that did was cut my unemployment from $400 a week to $65 a week.  Try living on that!!!!”

The screen name says it all – longtimeoff – and the story is compelling.

“I’m 48 and I’ve been out of work for nearly four years. I have an outstanding resume in construction management and facility management. I have sent out over 400 resumes and filled out untold numbers of applications. All this for jobs ranging from project manager to janitor.

“To date I have had ZERO response back from any of them. I believe the age of 45 is the real cut off for employers. Couple that with long term unemployment and it adds up to an undesirable employee to prospective employers.”

I will not bore you with the writer’s long and indecipherable screen name, but he offers words of what I believe are of undeniable truth.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the fact that technology has made all workplaces vastly more efficient–especially offices.  The reason that we have had such high unemployment coincident with record corporate profits is that firms fired workers during the downturn, and then realized that they could do the same amount of business without them.

“In all of the jobs I have had since college, the main goal has been to take some clunky manual process and turn it into an automated, push button exercise.  I think firms are looking for people who not only have knowledge already, but have the ability to synthesize new tasks and create new efficiencies–specific training is the baseline.”

MrWiseOwl offers some advice that is easier said than done, but still worth considering.

“I just turned age 57 last week … I’m so very happy I’ve been self-employed for the past 35 years-straight out of college. No one can fire me, and I earn based upon my talent, experience and abilities. I’m developing a real sense of gratitude for all the risk and hard times I had back in my 20’s, to get where I am today.

“To all you over 50 crowd, find your field of enjoyment (and) become self-employed if you can. Each great journey begins with but a single step. Create your own destiny. Really.”

ConcernedBoomer2012 laments his age in his desire to seek work.

“My belief is there are millions of us out of work because of age discrimination, but how do you prove that? As good as the laws interpret various types of protections, they are not protecting the so called elderly who are being ignored for their abilities and desire to work.”

In response to ConcernedBoomer, Nikkkko suggests that “health insurance cost discrimination” is the real culprit as to why older jobless workers are having a tougher time finding work.

“With health insurance costs out of control to begin with, being over 55 may cost an employer twice as much to hire you over a 20 something. Plus employers know that today’s young accept the idea of working for breadcrumbs since they have not known otherwise.”

My heart hurts for this discouraged young man, who called himself the Macedonian.

“Employers these days only want people who are in their 30s with a college degree and have considerable job experience. I am a young guy with no college degree. I am pretty out of luck for a job that pays a fair wage. Employers don’t even want to bother with training an inexperienced worker. This country is turning into a third world nation. American dream? That dream died decades ago.”

From Lynn’s remarks, it would appear that she might be an HR or hiring manager. She says the housing crisis has been an exacerbating factor to the problem of filling job vacancies.

“ … Jobs are going unfilled because people cannot sell homes in areas that are both bad job markets AND bad home selling markets. I have had qualified candidates not accept positions because they could not financially make their relocation work.”

Finally, we hear from gdsky, who tells his story.

“I, too, was let go after 30 years in management of new car dealerships, for someone 20 years younger and 10k cheaper. I was 55 at the time and even with this experience could not buy a job. I have had to change careers and start over at a time when most want to think of retirement. With the powers that be wanting everyone to work longer, I wonder where we will all find jobs.”

For what it’s worth, I wonder that as well.

Dean Barber is the principal/owner of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com  Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

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  1. One cannot read this without feeling sad. There is a common theme thoughout. The world has changed. We can no longer rely on just our past experience, education, and skills; find a job posting in the local paper; or mail out resumes to find a new job.

    We have to rely on our network and new technologies in today’s “hip” world. Many companies today do not advertise jobs in the old standard ways, they use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Yes, I did say Twitter. That is how they reach the new job seekers.

    So my advise is to find companies, in your community if you are not planning to move, that you would like to penetrate for a job and like them in Facebook, follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn. You should also try to network in your own community with the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development group, local Rotary, etc.; use LinkedIn to network into your target companies; and ask your friends if they know OTHER PEOPLE/COMPANIES who are looking to hire in your field, that puts less pressure on them to find you a job. They just need to find you contacts in their network.

    I have been unemployed and it sucks. I hope these tips help someone reading this blog.

  2. I also suggest what I call an Informational Interview.
    Call the CEO of ABC Company and ask for 15 minutes.

    It is not an interview for a job at ABC Company.
    It is asking an important person to meet you, review your background and make suggestions.
    The pressure is really off both of you.
    He or she reviews your resume, discusses ideas for employment, etc.
    At the end of the interview, you ask if she has suggestions on people to call.
    She gives you a few, most likely.
    You then ask if you can mention her name when calling.
    Most likely – now that she has met you – she will agree to this type of referal.
    There is even an off chance (ok – less than one percent) that there’s an un-advertised opening at ABC for which the CEO decides you’d be a good candidate.

    Now you can call XYZ Corp – and it could be the President you call, not HR – and honestly say, “Ms. ___, CEO at the ABC Company, suggested I call you.”
    I guarantee that will get you more attention than calling HR and picking up an application.

    If XYZ does not have job openings, you ask their President for an Informational Interview.
    The cycle can begin again. Eventually – you might find a very good job fit.
    At least you are networking with decision makers and hopefully creative thinkers.
    And you get better and better at the interviews.

    I know this sounds like an oblique way to prospect for a job, but I know it can work in some cases.

  3. I have a friend – just over 50 – for years, she was the bookkeeper of her husband’s hime building company. She had some college but no degree. The housing crunch hit NE Ohio, they are in the process of a divorce. She is now an assistant manager at McDonald’s working for $9.00 an hour and no health care. Once the divorce becomes final, if they can sell the house (it’s been for sale for over a year), she does get a portion of that. $9.00 an hour is not enough to rent a small apartment.

    My daughter and her two roommates are graduating from college this spring. The fear and uncertainty that they feel is palpable. They are not sure that their college degree will help them get a job. Our daughter is moving back home and going to grad school hoping the master’s degree will help her marketability…

    It is a different world and I am afraid that she will not experience the American Dream that her grandparents knew or that her parents are struggling to hold on to.

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