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Employment Counselling for Mature Workers

The changing workplace and increasing longevity of workers mean that mature clients have more work choices than ever. Western societies are redefining past ideas about mature workers, aging, and retirement. Opportunities to work with mature workers in your counselling practice will challenge you to keep up with the trends, services, and issues facing this diverse group of people.

Support, structure, and information—those are the keys

“With the proper coaching, people will go after what they really want. They go do things, they have energy, and they are right on top of things. They need support and this is all about being sensitive, respectful, and helpful. They also need structure and information. Support, structure, and information—those are the keys.”

—Faye Haney, Career Management Specialist

Helping mature workers update work search skills

Counsellors need to help mature clients see that the work search process involves creativity, communication, and planning.

Focusing on the next opportunity

“I encourage people to get current. Look at temporary employment agencies and part-time work or contracting—anything can lead to other opportunities. Older workers need encouragement to try different things. What might you do next? Work on the attitude shift to focus on the next thing.”

—Nell Smith, Nell Smith Career Services

Creativity and work search

Being creative in work search means scanning all information sources for potential employment leads. For example, a mature worker might read the business section of a newspaper or follow local sources on social media to see which companies are planning expansions, opening new branches, or taking over other companies. The mature worker can then research these events by finding a person to talk to about what is coming in the next few months. This strategy helps to identify opportunities before they are advertised.

Sometimes conversations will lead to a discussion of how busy the employees are. This offers a chance for the client to ask if additional help might be needed. Perhaps the client can take a short-term contract or work part time. Some companies advertise only full-time positions, so networking can sometimes be the best source of information about contract or part-time work.

Some mature workers may still have old beliefs about how to look for work. For example, they might believe that they should not bother employers. These kinds of assumptions can get in the way of people being creative in their job search. Mature clients may need some help in understanding the difference between bragging and legitimately promoting their skills by speaking confidently about what they can offer an employer.

Communication and work search

Working with clients on communication skills spans the entire work search process, from coaching clients in staying current on the labour market to preparing them to communicate with employers.

An important beginning is to focus on the way clients promote themselves. Listen carefully to what they say and how they say it. Be alert to potential problems for clients.

Listening to mature workers

“The purpose of [listening to clients talk about themselves] is that you cannot let clients go off on their job search if they might turn people off, annoy them, or burn bridges. For example, a potential supervisor does not want to hear about ‘the way we used to do that...’ If we’re going to prepare people, we need to not set them up for failure.”

—Bonnie Young, Career Transition Counsellor

Coach mature clients to focus on talking about times when they have initiated change or responded to change. Help them to become aware of the breadth of changes they’ve made in their lives and of the many skills they have developed. Mature clients may minimize what they’ve done and take their accomplishments for granted.

You and your clients will need to be persistent in taking apart their resumé and rebuilding it several times. Discuss the content for specific cover letters, and use it to practise interview scenarios. These activities are all important because clients must prepare to respond to specific employer needs.

Be sure to coach clients to answer interview questions with results-based evidence. Communication with potential future employers must stress results and accomplishments. Clients who have worked in only 1 sector or for only 1 company need help showing their ability to adapt. They must counter any perceptions that they are too limited.

Coping with constant change

“When you are counselling older clients, you’ll hear them say, ‘Oh, I’ve done that, and I’ve lived through 4 bosses in the last 8 years, or I’ve had to change my way of doing things because I had to report to managers at a distance.’ What are all these events if not coping with constant change?”

—Bonnie Young, Career Transition Counsellor

Following up after applying for work is essential. During the work search, any number of events can happen without the client being notified. There may be changes in the company that affect job availability, such as an internal employee being moved into another job. Clients must check back regularly to remind the employer of their interest in the job. Following up is often the only way a client will find out about the status of an application.

Planning and work search

Job seekers need to consider timelines and plan their work search accordingly. The plan may depend on their needs and the requirements in the sectors and communities in which they’re looking.

Also, job seekers need to be aware of the job search season. It’s not unusual to respond to an ad or pursue a job lead in June and hear back on it around the end of September. In many industries, July and August are forced holidays for job seekers. Sometimes clients will respond to job openings toward the end of the year but hear nothing until mid-January.

The work search seasons may change according to the sector and the community, so clients need to consider:

  • When the breaks usually occur
  • What events cause hiring to be paused
  • How to make the most of their time when recruitment has temporarily stopped
  • How to use their energy well when job opportunities are more abundant

Preparing for the quiet times

“Job search is a lonely business. I often warn clients about the roller-coaster ride of searching and help them prepare for the down times when there appears to be no activity in the job market (for example, no ads, no leads from friends). Then people must become more creative in the search process, and get themselves into research mode.”

—Bonnie Young, Career Transition Counsellor

Helping mature workers manage work-related concerns about age

Education is a strategy for dealing with age biases based on fallacies and misinformation.

Help clients be ready to use every opportunity to educate employers and organizations about the benefits of hiring mature workers. Mature workers also need to become comfortable working through different ways of handling discriminatory employment practices or comments.

Finally, mature workers should become familiar with Alberta’s human rights and equity legislation and with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Demonstrating employability

“People who are employable speak with confidence, demonstrate social skills, are energetic, look current, and talk about the present and the future. They talk about their willingness to learn and actually demonstrate that by trying new things. They’ve also learned to build and use their network of associates.”

—Nell Smith, Nell Smith Career Services

Help mature clients prepare for difficult interview questions. Encourage them to have the courage to bring up topics themselves if they sense that some issues are simmering. This preparation takes courage on the part of the counsellor as well, since you will need to be able to help people cope with difficult questions that potential employers will likely ask.

Helping mature workers explore alternatives to full-time work

Counsellors report that clients often only see themselves as they’ve been. They don’t see themselves in other work roles. And many mature clients worry that they will never get another full-time job. They may have assumed they would be employed until they chose to retire, so they may be unaware of the educational opportunities and the range of support available to them. They could also be out of touch with the rapidly changing realities of today’s work dynamic and alternative opportunities for jobs.

In counselling older workers, help them reconcile their goals with the realities of the workplace. Encourage them to consider the growing alternatives to the traditional full-time job, including:

  • A permanent part-time job combined with other small part-time jobs or contracts
  • Phased-in retirement through reduced hours or responsibilities
  • A long-term contract with 1 employer
  • Several short-term contracts with different employers
  • Job or work sharing
  • Part-time work
  • Consulting
  • A home-based business
  • Self-employment
  • Training or mentoring positions

Work alternatives may offer the best opportunities for mature workers wishing to use different sets of skills or to pursue a long-time dream or passion. Employers may be open to creating flexible work arrangements because they value the contribution made by mature workers.

Self-employment and home-based businesses are also becoming popular ways of working. So are opportunities to work remotely or participate in the gig economy. Some people are ready to work differently, often more independently. There are government programs and community-based agencies that can assist individuals who are interested in starting their own businesses.

Helping mature workers continue to learn

A key way for older workers to overcome barriers to employment is to make sure they have the skills appropriate to their chosen direction. If clients determine that their skills and knowledge need to be upgraded or enhanced, help them explore educational alternatives.

If mature workers prefer not to return to the classroom full time, they may be able to gather the skills or credentials they need through:

Programs that offer on-the-job training may be especially well suited to some mature workers. On-the-job training allows mature workers to gain new skills in the workplace. For some clients, being employed, even at a lower wage, may be preferable to the stress and uncertainty of trying to gain future employment after a long period of retraining.

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