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!