By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
Many years ago, I was young. For my age, I believe I was humble. The way I was raised precluded me from the possibility of being arrogant or disrespectful, but, of course, I was reckless and inexperienced. I did pretty well for myself, though. With my chemistry degree, I had worked as an analytical chemist working with environmental testing. Eventually I returned to school, completed my doctorate. Since then, I performed research at prestigious institutions, worked as a professor of chemistry earning the rank of tenured full professor, was hired to be the director of a forensic lab, and returned to academia as the dean of science and mathematics at a private university. Throughout, I continued to learn, both from my experience as well as required “refresher” training.
Today, I am unemployed with the most experience, knowledge, training and the largest skill set I’ve ever had.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I’m unemployed because “they…” No, this is my own doing, and I understand that. I foolishly walked out on my tenured position because I had a jealous wife, but that was my decision so I cannot blame her. I always tried to stand up for the right thing, even if it meant doing so to the wrong people which is how I lost my jobs both as director and dean. Even this was a choice. Although I did respect my superiors and followed orders, I have a habit of pointing out concerns, even at times that I could sense that the wise move would be to just let it slide.
But, that’s not the point to this blog, but rather to focus on the fact that I have sent out hundreds of applications (at this point, if I’m not over a thousand, I’m certainly approaching it) to no avail. I’m told that to be successful you need a “diverse” portfolio, but I cannot imagine how mine can be anymore diverse than it already is. And I’m old you need “continuing education”, but I’ve had continuing education throughout my career. Heck, my career has been in education! If I didn’t make it past an initial interview, that would be one thing, but I’m not even getting my foot in the door. Which makes me wonder why.
From this point forwards, this blog is pretty much conjecture, but I hope to give the reader something to consider. See, with my experience, my training, my degrees, my successes, I think of the times I myself sat on job search committees, and believe that my portfolio should be golden for a plethora of jobs from research to programming to management to education. And yet…nothing.
This leads me to question if my age is the problem. Currently, I’m in my mid-fifties, and probably have ten to fifteen years to work left in me, minimum, and more depending on the position. Frankly, I’m tired of relocating and getting new jobs, so if I could find that one position with a company as dedicated to me as I am to the company, they would have a loyal employee probably until 2030 or more. But as a society, I believe we tend to view those who are aging incorrectly.
Business doesn’t want somebody that they view as “at the end” of their career, although this arbitrary ’50’s age bias is based on the outdated notion of retirement at 55. Today, “mandatory retirement” typically does not kick in until 67, more than a decade from where it used to be. Companies tend to covet “young and hungry”, a trend that began when my father was about my age when it became a standard industrial practice to replace older managers with young kids just graduating from college with business degrees. Back then, college degrees were just becoming common. The former generation tended to have a small percentage of college graduates, so these new shiny kids with the college that their older managers did not have looked to be quite appealing. Add to this the fact that they were willing to work for pennies, and you have a recipe for replacement of experienced managers for new ones.
But that’s the problem. The older generation has the experience that the younger one lacks. Our society does not seem to have respect for the value of that experience, instead wanting newer younger people. This is easily seen in today’s common salary structure, where younger newer employees often come in with a higher pay rate than the current employees. The argument goes that this higher pay is to “attract higher quality” applicants, but the counter argument is that this also discourages the experienced employees from staying.
Those of us who have been in the game for a long time have had a lot of time, money and resources from our respective companies poured into us. We’ve been trained, we’ve learned from our mistakes, we’ve had our skills honed and polished, but our society views us as “old” rather than “experienced”.
Yesterday, the team that won the Superbowl had a quarterback that is 41 years old, the oldest quarterback ever to do so. Did the team win with only older players, say thirty-five (old by football standards) and up? No, of course not, but neither did a team with only twenty-somethings. The skill of the experience quarterback with the energy of the other players created the winning combination.
Our society could learn much from this example. In any industry, there are a plethora of jobs that must be filled, and skills that are needed. You would think that the winning combination would be to put the older and more experienced people in positions to teach, mentor, and guide the younger employees while they are still learning. Because THAT is how you win a Superbowl!