"Now I know I can! "

30 Jan 2015 19:39 | Armelle Loghmanian

Ana Escarpenter


Jean Luc Louis

CEO and Mentor

“Now I know I can!”, this is what 35 people over 50 years old have said after 6 months collaborating together to create their own professional future. How was this possible? What was it all about?

“I was at a networking event with a friend of mine, Evelyn Gessler from Deciders, when a man, 53 years old, told us about his situation. He had already been made redundant at his work, a couple of weeks ago, but had not yet had the courage to tell his family. It was the end for him.” 

We were shocked! How could that be? Something had to be done. How could we help the growing numbers of unemployed people over 50 overcome the situation and find a job? 

After a few brainstorming sessions with friends, colleagues, and potential partners, we created 50s@work. This non-for-profit association exists since the beginning of 2014 and in its first round of projects, after 6 months (3h/week), it has helped 35 women and men find their way out of unemployment in Brussels.


What is the general employment situation nowadays in Belgium in general? And with 50+ers? Are there any differences between women and men? Why is it difficult for 50+ers to find a job?

The present situation is unacceptable: 50+ers are too young to be retired (true!), too old to work (not true!). Governments keep pushing retirement age higher and higher but there are no jobs in the market! And this situation is unique for Europe, in the USA and Asia there is no age limit to stop working. 

In Belgium everybody, politicians, sociologists, economists, entrepreneurs, agree there is a problem but nobody sees how to solve it.

The following figures speak for themselves… 


And this is because:
  • International crisis: It is affecting everyone, the young and the not so young.
  • Costs for the employer: Belgian salaries are based on the age of the people. It means that for the same function, a 50+er is more expensive than a young person.
  • Modern culture: “Young is beautiful!”
  • Wrong, but strong belief in society, and particularly among HR staff: 50+ers are too old to work. They are not more able to grow any more, they are not flexible enough, they are often ill, they can’t learn any more, they are only thinking about their retirement, …
  • Real problem of the 50+ers (from the point of view of the unemployed people): lack of flexibility (it’s always better: “done the usual way”), not ready to learn (even if they can), too self-confident in their abilities (they think they can do any work thanks to their experience), they are “out of the market” if they are unemployed more than a year, …
  • Unemployment of young people (especially in Brussels) is so high that all the priorities of the government is given to them. Its means: investment, training, follow-up…
  • Attitude of the unions: For people above a certain age, unions do not prioritize finding a job, but “protecting their rights” (guarantee of the unemployment benefit, pre-pension, amount of the pension, social security, …)

Tell us more about your initiative: what were your goals / objectives?

So we decided to stop complaining and start acting! 
The main goal was to start changing mental attitudes to take responsibility for the situation, to encourage the participants to put together a project and develop it with a team spirit, as in a daily working environment, and to run it internally as autonomously as possible. The challenge was theirs!

Our role was to simply coach them and keep track of their evolution. It proved to be a bit too optimistic for a first ever test.

In fact, 50s@work has been a total new initiative, new methodology, new target participants and new standards, and totally free for the participants, so defining its KPIs was not evident.

What has been the outcome of this first round of 50s@work? How many participants? 

Out of 180 people who attended the project presentation session, 70 followed the training session and 35 participated actively in the working groups. They were 1/3 women and 2/3 men from a wide variety of cultural, educational and financial backgrounds as well as motivations. In the end, 4 enrolled in a training program and 13 found a new job.

Nevertheless, the most important outcome, that we are all extremely proud of, has been the change of mentality of the participants. They are active: they have changed their work dress code, their CV’s, they have a LinkedIn profile, they have created or reactivated their network, they now accept the necessity to adapt faster and, finally, they are ready to fight to get a job. I know I can!

Testimonial from Mrs. J.S., a participant:
“This activity allowed us to consider that unemployment can be something else rather than a stigmatizing period .... This may be an opportunity to act, to meet, to reflect and to reveal our own potential. This allowed us to meet new people, to share our respective situations, to work together. We must now, while waiting for a job opportunity, find practical solutions to implement daily to fight against the negative feelings one can experience and realize our own abilities, strengths, qualities and desires to create, innovate, etc.”

What were the pros and cons in your findings?

Let me summarize the pros and cons as the following:

 Pro’s  Con’s
  • Team spirit was a reality
  • Willingness to reach the goal was real but the “how” was not clear at all
  • Evolution of the mentality (from unemployed persons to member of a project team)
  • New network for all
  • Proud to be member of a project team
  • Achieved results
  • Not enough meetings (needed to change quicker mentality quicker)
  • Not enough training (needed to give or to upgrade competencies)
  • Not enough trainers (the follow-up was more important than what we had thought it would be necessary)
  • Not enough time (link to “not enough trainers”) 

 Success factors  Difficulties
  • The willingness of several people to reach a result at the end of the work
  • The spirit created in almost every team
  • The presence of someone from 50s@work to assume the continuation of the work and to give, from time to time, methodological support.
  • Time bounded project, even if the defined period was too short, the need to reach a result within a certain period of time was a plus
  •  People were free to participate, and also to leave. Some of them were only “tourists” and not real participants. They were only curious.
  • Quality level of some team “leaders”: was too low and they were not able to manage a team, even with the support of someone from the association.
  • Time management: link to the lack of experience;
  • We were too naïve. We have started with the idea that every 50+er without a job wants to find a one. It is not true. We have to be aware of that fact.

What are the next steps for 50s@work?

We have been able to prove that it is possible, therefore we would like to continue, but to do so we need first and foremost the support of the local authorities; among them Actiris –responsible for the unemployed people- and Bruxelles Formation –responsible for the training of unemployed people- as well as better financial support to have more trainers, trainings and meetings.

Any recommendations for 50+ers looking for a job?

Here are my suggestions:
  • Be aware from the beginning that it will not be easy, even if, from time to time, a quick success is possible.
  • Reactivate or rebuild your useful network.
  • Keep in touch with former colleagues, providers, customers and other professional relationships.
  • Stay active, even if it is without any salary (i.e. work for associations). Your biggest enemies are doing nothing, watching television the all day long, taking care of the children, cooking every day, staying in pajamas, sleeping late, gardening for yourself, …. It comes quicker than you think!
  • Use your time to learn something new or to update your knowledge in your own specialities.
  • Write your CV without mentioning your date of birth, but mentioning what you have done since you have lost your last job.
  • And, last but not least: join 50s@work!

And for you? Are you planning more projects?

Plenty! The day I will realise my last dream I will die!

Do you know of any similar initiatives in Belgium or elsewhere?

Take a look at this similar initiative from the Netherlands http://bit.ly/1sn5OoR. And you, do you know of any similar initiatives elsewhere? We would love to hear about it.

Short Biography

After a career of more than 30 years within the credit insurance industry, in Belgium and abroad, Jean Luc Louis decided to launch his own activities. Since 2009 he has been offering services to companies as a consultant in all aspect regarding "credit risk management". He also organizes events like fairs and congresses and he supports new businesses (search of investors, internal organization, respect of legal constraints, etc.). He is the Vice-president of 50s@work ASBLin Bruxelles (Helping people 50+ to find a job) and the owner of the company BXL.net Sprl,

During his career Jean Luc Louis has covered several positions as CEO at Euler Hermes Belgium (Information Company), Mondialis SA (Credit insurance), Euler Hermes Nederland NV (Credit Insurance), Dimensione Spa in Rome (Information Company). He also gained the positions of Member of the board at UCM Brussels (Organization of small enterprises), eDebex SA, Chamber of Commerce “Belgium-Luxemburg” in France, Chamber of Commerce of Brussels, CESCOB Pojistovna in Prague (Credit insurance) and COBAC Nederlands. He has been Vice President at EULER SIAC Spa in Rome (Credit Insurance), Deputy General Director at EULER COBAC SA and Advisor at KALARA ASBLin Bruxelles (Children education in Cameroon).

Jean Luc Louis gained a post graduate degree in Management at Cepac Solvay Business School (Brussels, Belgium) and is a member of the INSEAD Entrepreneurship Club (IEC, Fontainebleau France). IEC serves to "funnel" INSEAD MBA students, regardless of their entrepreneurial experiences, from inspiration, all the way to starting their own business during or after the program.

Jean Luc Louis is a fluent speaker of French, Dutch, English, Italian and basic German.


Jean Luc LOUIS
Sprl BXL.Net Bvba
+32 (0) 474 990 520

Disclaimer -     Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of 50s@work, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

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