Tag Archives: older workers

Shirkers Versus Workers

The Work Programme isn’t working, unless you belong in the band of jobseekers that need basic assistance with applications, CVs and interviews, and help with essential computer skills. Those who are experienced – and by this, I mean skilled workers, managers and professionals over 40 – are not helped much by government programmes.

Why? Because the approach is all wrong. Current programmes make the tacit assumption that an unemployed person doesn’t want to work – I refer to the recent “shirkers versus workers” statements made by our government. It’s nonsense – and dangerous nonsense too. Pitting the middle and working classes against the poor is a distraction from the huge problems our country faces. The Tories have directed a media campaign designed to make voters think the unemployed have created the debt problem when, in actuality, it is government policies that keep the economy in a moribund condition. And we have a faulty economic system that continues to be propped up by those who created the problem. I refer to the banksters and financial opportunists who are still getting richer in these dark times.

Mature workers who are in dire straits need mature help. They cannot be treated like children. If they say they’re looking for a job, they mean it. Even if they wanted to, counsellors at JobCentrePlus haven’t been trained to make recommendations for older skilled workers – and the Work Programme doesn’t offer genuine support either. So where is the help?

You will solve your problem if you are able to pay a career coach something between three and eight thousand pounds. There are plenty of good companies – and individual coaches – who are ready to take your money and assist with employment readiness. It’s a proven tactic.

But did I mention dark times? Older workers usually don’t have that kind of discretionary cash, especially when they’ve lost a job, often without a sweet redundancy package and probably without much outsourcing help – if any. Where can they turn?

Job clubs can help. The benefits are enormous: a place to go once a week where you can learn to improve your presentation skills and be with people who understand what you’re going through. A good club will be a combination of back-to-work course, social club and networking opportunity. This type of club is one of the best you could join, even if it means travelling some distance or having to pay.

Free job clubs for older, white-collar workers are thin on the ground – so scarce, I decided to start one in my neighbourhood. It’s called Room For Work and we began our sessions in mid-October, 2012. Since then, we’ve helped over 30 people, three of whom have found work and a half dozen more are now getting interviews. Our numbers grow every week and I can say that I haven’t met a single “shirker” since we started.

Room For Work meets in south-west London. Find out more:


There’s another club in the Borough of Richmond


In Berkshire, there are five clubs:


I know of a good one in Colchester, Essex:


For a national list of job clubs click here (contact each one to determine suitability):


And if you are in the demographic I mention in the article above, you need my book: Finding Work After 40: Proven Strategies for Managers and Professionals (Bloomsbury)

Tagged , ,

Mentoring At The Silver Academy

In our book, FINDING WORK AFTER 40, Liam and I describe an ‘older worker’ as someone over 40 – not an advanced age if you happen to be 55 or 62. In fact, it seems positively youthful to those of us who have crossed over the half-century line. Ours was an arbitrary choice, based on the youngest age that someone might be considered ‘older’ in today’s workforce. Those who are in the IT sector or in marketing will likely agree that 40 is a difficult age. Over 45 and certainly over 50 (for every sector) is what we really mean by ‘older’.

The age of 50 is a demarcation for The Silver Academy. The project is a partnership between South East Chambers of Commerce and the University of Surrey, with funding provided by the EU Interregional Cooperation programme INTERREG IVC. The objective is simple: to help unemployed older people start their own businesses. Over six months, a series of seven one-day workshops guides participants, some 100 in total, towards a decision and an action plan for self-employment. Leadership is provided by Len Goss, an experienced business coach, with support from Ross McNally of South East Chambers.

I discovered The Silver Academy when I was doing research for the book. I was impressed by the concept and offered my time as a volunteer mentor, a service the Academy provides to participants on request. Since February, I’ve been mentoring two people from the Academy, and the experience has been very rewarding. Phil and Jane are both designers – one does offices, the other home interiors. We meet regularly and discuss problems and issues, with weekly assignments (I call it ‘homework’), all the while moving towards an agreed goal. I encourage Phil and Jane to examine their strengths and weaknesses, assess what they need, and develop an action plan. Then I help them stay on track. There is a ‘how to’ element in mentoring, which is what differentiates it from coaching, and so I do present recommendations based on my own business experience. Phil and Jane are starting their first businesses, while I have had several start-ups, and I’ve worked for new companies as an interim manager and a consultant.

Ross invited me to a special mentoring day, held last week (March 14th) in Guildford, where Len took Silver Academy participants through a fast-paced workshop in personal coaching, one of his areas of expertise. He’s an enthusiastic and talented man; he got everyone involved, including me. It was hugely useful and often entertaining. I learned more about the close relationship between mentoring and coaching and, thankfully, my mentoring concepts and methods were confirmed. We were instructed to never say, ‘Yes, but…’ in any session. It’s an ego comment coming from the coach/mentor, one that denies a person’s abilities. I was pleased to realise I have never said it to Phil and Jane.

Len asked me to tell the group what benefit I receive from mentoring. What does the mentor get out of it? Here are the bullet points I presented.

  • Confirmation that my advice is appropriate and my skills are effective. My knowledge has value.
  • Information when the mentee tells me something I didn’t know about their sector, their ‘world’. I’m enriched by  their knowledge.
  • Network enhancement. The mentee is in my network, and I’m in theirs. We all need to constantly upgrade our network.

So what’s different about mentoring older workers? It’s pleasant to work with people who have years of employment experience behind them — they know their capabilities. Phil and Jane are moving towards a personal definition of success; they each have clearly-defined goals. Communication is fluent because we share common ground: we’re from the same generation. Talking down is inappropriate and embarrassing for both parties in any mentoring situation, but I have found that ‘Yes, but’ is closer to the surface when I’ve mentored younger people.

If you are considering a move into self-employment and starting your own business, try to find a mentor, someone with experience who can encourage you and guide you away from pitfalls and towards success. Where are they found? A government initiative commences this summer, one that will replace Business Link advisors with volunteer mentors, some 40,000 in all. Visit the Business Link website for information and updates (at the time of writing I was unable to find a web address for this service). If your need is more urgent, Horsesmouth allows you to register a request for a mentor (www.horsesmouth.co.uk). PRIME, http://www.primeinitiative.co.uk and the sister site http://www.primebusinessclub.com provide information for over-50s starting a business. You won’t find a list of mentors there, but you can receive free business advice from a number of local sources listed in the Prime Business Club directory. Once you get started, you may be led towards an appropriate mentor by helpful guides you meet along the way.

Remember that a mentor should be positive and supportive. If you leave a session feeling downhearted, having heard ‘Yes, but’ a few too many times, you’re with the wrong person. Knowledge and encouragement are what you need to help you get back to work.

Tagged , , ,