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Fifty, fired and fretful: Three chaps stare down CAREER MORTALITY

Reg chats to fifty-ish fellows, learns of hopes, dreams, fears etc

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Donald* guessed what about to happen as soon as the meeting started, so he got in first with a question.

“How much will my payout be?”

And with that, a fifteen-year stint at a multinational vendor came to an end. Donald's on gardening leave. His employer was obliged to write him a handsome cheque, but his role had seen him specialise on a product that hasn't been hot since the 1990s so at 52 he quickly worried whether where his career would go next. Or if it would go anywhere.

Geoff was 50 when he got the same news. After a decade working for a consultancy, the data architect was shown the door.

For Geoff, finding a new job in IT was not an immediate priority because he already moonlighted in the hospitality industry. With a redundancy payment equal to a year's worth of wages in his pocket , Geoff knew if he could pick up some more hospitality work he could do alright for two, maybe even three years.

Bill had no such luxury. Made redundant a few months before his 50th, but after just eighteen months in his current job, his payout was small. To make things worse, he and his wife had just bought a new car and a new home.

Bill's wife works, so they're not in financial peril. But he's not happy.

“When it happened my reaction was anger and shock,” he said. “I had very good performance reviews and just got a bonus. I could not believe they would let someone like me go when worse performers were kept on.” Bill thinks those who weren't fired were on lower wages.

Bill's never been one to stay in a job for long, not because he gets moved on but because he likes to keep moving. His CV is therefore in good order and he's not fazed by interviews. Bill takes heart from that, because some of the other folks made redundant at the same time were what he calls “lifers” who literally spent decades at his previous employer. Their adjustment period will be longer than Bill's, and he feels for them.

So far he's not done much job searching, but his initial forays have not been stunningly encouraging. “I changed my status on LinkedIn and recruiters are calling,” he says. “But they all seem to be calling about the same three jobs.” His former employer has offered “outplacement services” and Bill expects he'll use them in time.

He doesn't expect his age will be a factor, because his skill set is in shortish supply.

“My work is not the kind of thing that can be outsourced to India,” he says, confident he'll be back in work before long.

Geoff's not so sure age isn't a factor. While he's incredibly fit and feels that in a suit he doesn't look his age, Geoff doesn't put his age on his CV.

He's not fussed about contracting or full time work. The former would still mean wages three or four times higher than he can earn in the hospitality industry. A permanent gig would mean he can get serious about retirement savings plans.

“Getting full time work in IT will be the difference between retiring rich and retiring poor,” he says.

Experience versus skill

Geoff's had a few interviews and is finding, so far, that it's hard to explain the breadth of his skills. “Employers are looking for something specific,” he said. “It's like they want a driver for a Volvo and I can drive a truck, a forklift or a taxi.” He's considering study to acquire a specific skill, so it's harder to dismiss him as a generalist.

He's also beginning to worry that not having worked in IT for over six months looks bad. Half a year, he feels, is an explicable amount of time. He's travelled, spent time with family and recharged his batteries. A longer period out of the industry might, he fears, be a stigma. Geoff's therefore paying more attention to his job search, because he feels the time has come to make it a priority.

Donald had a new job inside a week. A former client whose setup he knows inside out had a job on offer. Although among the last applicants, Donald had enough of a head start that he interviewed one day and was offered a job the next.

Winning a new job so quickly was a relief. Donald's had imagined a worst case scenario that would see him out of work beyond Christmas, with age and his narrow specialisation the two reasons he felt the search could be lengthy. Setting up a consultancy was another option, and he feels the shortage of skills in his specialism would have made that viable. But a full-time job means his retirement plans remain on track.

He's relieved, grateful and also rather happy.

There's still some trepidation. Donald's uncertain what it will mean to work for an in-house IT team after years spent working from home or on clients' premises.

But he's also got some nice things to worry about. “My partner says I'll spend a lot more money on lunch,” he says.

Geoff and Bill probably wish they had the same problem. ®

*All names and some skills or occupations have been changed in this story, as the three people we spoke to are mindful that former and future employers may not be entirely happy to read some of the experiences and opinions it contains.

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