Middle-Age Job Loss Can Bring a Heavy Burden

The following appeared in the CT Post on September 11, 2016 and features comments from OperationsInc CEO David Lewis. To view the original article, please click here

by Betty Wong

ctpostThere was a time when the term “midlife crisis” conjured up images of an aging person buying a small sports car. The Great Recession, however, has accelerated many a mid-career crisis as displaced middle-aged workers attempt to regain their career footing in a wobbly economy.

For a young worker, there might be some fumbling for the first job, but internships offer salvation, even if some career lifelines aren’t in the majors studied or the pay modest. Laid-off C-suite folks can reinvent themselves with ex-employer-paid executive coaching and strong networks to land the next gig.

But what about the vast middle — the mid-career folks aged 40-54 who spent decades at their companies, working their way up to front-line or middle-manager roles only to be downsized as the recession chomped on corporate and then individual earnings? Middle age is when workers historically accumulated wealth, paid off homes and saved for retirement and their kids’ college tuition.

The latest census data, the American Community Survey for 2010, showed 24 percent of southwestern Connecticut’s population was aged 40-54. During the recession, job losses occurred throughout the economy but were concentrated in mid-wage occupations, with the finance and manufacturing sectors hit especially hard. The limited jobs subsequently created in Connecticut have been lower-wage, higher-turnover jobs in education, health services, leisure and hospitality.

“Because of changes in the economy and the lack of growth in financial services in particular, the reality is there are not as many jobs to satisfy the appetites of the white-collar residents who used to make up this market,” said David Lewis, CEO of Norwalk-based human resources outsourcing and consulting firm Operations Inc. and CEO of AllCountyJobs.com.

The Connecticut Department of Labor said job assistance for displaced middle-aged workers in Fairfield County include the CTHires online job bank, American Job Centers workshops, a career development team in the AJC Bridgeport office and a partnership with the Southwest Connecticut Workforce Investment Board in a Platform to Employment program.

looking-for-a-job-signOne AJC workshop offered in Bridgeport is “Over 40 and Looking for Work” to help job-seekers who spent a lot of time at one company, using LinkedIn to network and translating skills and experience to better match current job descriptions.

Some dislocated workers may also be eligible for federal retraining funds, especially those who lost jobs due to foreign competition. Job Centers also hold recruitment events for local employers needing to fill specific positions.

AARP offers free skills workshops for all ages on branding and LinkedIn, as well as webinars on social media and staying competitive in the workplace. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, when we hold a seminar on job-seeking skills and what the market is looking at now versus 20 to 30 years ago, we get a full house,” said Nora Duncan, state director of AARP Connecticut.

AARP will hold a virtual career fair on Sept. 20 and a job seeker skills builder event on Nov. 12.

While the resources might help middle-aged jobless on the mechanics of modern job-hunting, it’s tough when opportunities are limited and an offer hinges on a successful job hunter’s pitch of career reinvention.

A hiring manager will question, “What do I pay this person? The person used to make $100,000 before, but I never paid more than $80,000 for the role. It’s a tough thing to overcome” for a person who has relevant skills but lacks specific industry knowledge, Lewis said.

The risk? “Whether someone working 20 years in one industry is going to adapt to a new role,” he said.

Lewis said a possible new career for middle-aged job seekers is in sales. “The value they bring to the table is their network. Are you willing to work your contacts for this new employer?”

Alternatively, Lewis offers that Connecticut could take the “bold move” by offering incentives to companies to hire and retrain workers, but he admits this is unlikely given the state’s dire budget constraints.

Lewis suggested that long-term unemployed middle-aged workers be “geography agnostic” as they assess translatable skills for new industries. “It’s not easy for them to find jobs, especially candidates who inadvertently found a dead end.”