A German Fix For The Over-50 Unemployed
Job hunting gets harder the older you get, right? A program in Germany is showing that it may just require the right training, and the right candidate-job matching.
MUNICH — The conventional wisdom is that unemployeed people over 50 don't stand a chance in the job market. But a Munich job center project has been proving that this assumption is false. In fact, some employers are even looking specifically for candidates with decades of experience.
At 57 and unemployed, Christa Ehizojie seemed to be a lost cause in the job market. Despite having applied for 365 different jobs, no one wanted to hire the longtime office administrator from Unterhaching. "This can cause you to lose your self-esteem, and you start wondering why you even bother," she says.
She hadn't been able to work full-time since 2005 because of a cancer diagnosis, so she had to make do with temporary jobs. But then a Munich job center admitted her to a very special project. The so-called "Goal 50 Plus" is intended to provide a new perspective, self-esteem and job opportunities to the long-term unemployed over 50.
Goal 50 Plus has been available in Munich since January 2014, and is now set to be expanded. The project's social workers are attempting to find ideal jobs for the candidates by engaging them in intense conversations, arranging meetings and even enrolling them in specialist courses.
Christa Ehizojie, for example, was able to take advantage of classes offered by the private Institute of Personnel Training and Consulting (IPB), whose participants are selected by the job center. There are also courses such as nutritional science, conflict management and sports management, as well as classes to learn how to use computers.
First, the essentials
Some clients have to start with the essential. "It has happened that we had to help a participant to look for an apartment," IPB counselor Markus Mussotter explains. "It is a relentless downwards spiral: Without a job, there can be no apartment, and without an apartment there are rarely any options left."
Mussotter, 48, says that often clients need to relearn how to get onto a regular schedule, and so daily attendance at IPB is compulsory for the first three months.
"Structuring their day is something that a lot of people who have been long-term unemployed have forgotten how to do," the counselor explains. "Taking the first step towards employment is a voluntary one. I can't force anyone."
Ehizojie says being inactive was not a problem for her, as she had always kept busy with volunteer work and taking care of her grandchild. Still, she says, the courses have been helpful, encouraging her to stop simply applying for any job opening. "At the application training, I learned to analyse myself and my needs," she says. "What is it that I really want? Which job is suitable for me?"
Finally, in September she found a job at the headquarters of a food franchise company, though she still comes into the center for an English course — and more. "It is just simply good fun, and I'm still able to ask Mr. Musotter or one of his colleagues for advice when I need it," she explains.
Participants who were unable to find a job within the first three months of taking part in the jobs initiative must be in touch with the IPB once a month. Those who have not been able to find employment after a further three months are considered very difficult to place.
"The upper limit of unemployment is usually two years, especially in such fast-changing areas as technology," says one job center case manager. "Afterwards, it becomes quite difficult to place people. Cases that involve the person being unemployed for more than four years are the most difficult."
When age is an advantage
A former client of a jewelery shop, for which she now works, was actually able to procure that job because of, not despite, her age. "Her boss wanted to hire someone who could advise older customers and knew their tastes," the job center case manager says.
Ehizojie was also able to take advantage of her age. "My boss was of the opinion that my job required a high-level sense of responsibility and that this is more likely to be displayed by a more experienced employee."
Those Goal 50 Plus project participants who are able to find a job within three months that pays between 650 and 1,900 euros a month receive a monthly bonus of up to 200 euros. In 2014, 1,088 participants were able to find a job through this initiative.
Should Christa Ehijozie face any job-related problems during the duration of this initiative, she is always able to seek advice and resources from the program.
But for now, there doesn't seem to be much need: Her role is due to be expanded from half- to full-time employment. "I feel quite content at the moment," she says. "I have many young colleagues and enjoy going to work."