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There is no labour market problem «50plus»

People over 50 will never find a job again. At least that's the popular opinion. The latest federal data shows it is still not possible to speak of a general labor market problem for older people.

People who have passed the age of 50 will never find a job again. At least, that's the popular belief. The topic is being pushed by the media through individual fates. Politics is involved because it can win many votes. And the population confirms, because everyone knows someone over 50 who has been unemployed for a long time.

But it is not that simple. The latest federal data shows that it is still not possible to speak of a general labour market problem for older people. Their unemployment rate and social assistance rate are still below average. The employment rate is high by international standards and continues to rise.

It is true that unemployment among older people lasts longer on average, around 270 days compared to 170 days among younger people. Nevertheless, it should be noted that 85 percent of the unemployed over 55 years of age find a job again. The often heard reference that older job seekers "have no chance anyway" is therefore still not true.

And, even more importantly, it is clear that employers and personnel managers have prejudices against older employees, but that one cannot generally speak of a "problem of older people", but that the chances of those affected depend strongly on their personal situation. These include:

  • Self-marketing: 50plus are often not (any longer) used to "selling" themselves well on the labour market.
  • Self-confidence: Many 50plus believe that they no longer have a chance as "old iron" on the job market.
  • Company-Specialists: There are 50plus, who during 10 to 20 years have carried out a very specific activity in a company, which does not exist in other companies.
  • Outdated know-how: The principle of lifelong learning is too often neglected, which means that professional skills erode over the years.
  • Costs: Many 50plus have high salary expectations - regression is rarely an option.
  • Health: In certain occupational groups, older jobseekers have increased health problems.
  • Digitisation: The rapid technological upheaval of recent decades has made the starting position on the labour market even more difficult for older unemployed people. They often have insufficient knowledge of current IT technologies and tools.
  • Willingness to be mobile: Older workers tend to have a lower willingness to be mobile at work and in the local area than their younger competitors.

Despite these individual differences the 50plus are often presented as a homogeneous group. This is the only explanation for the fact that instruments such as bridging pensions, protection against dismissal and anti-discrimination legislation are currently being discussed. Such instruments may promise political success, but they do not help the integration of 50plus into the labour market. On the contrary: one can want bridging pensions - but one has to be aware that this is a measure to secure one's livelihood and not to promote the integration of 50plus into the labour market. On the contrary, a pension reduces the incentive to find a new job or to hire a 50plus.

What is needed instead is education.

Employers need to break down prejudices and recognise more clearly the value they get from older employees and that a mixed workforce can be a great advantage. This will only succeed if the image of the 50plus is corrected in the whole society. For example, it is absurd to describe a 52-year-old as an "older employee". Never before have 50-year-olds been as fit as today.

This will be helped by the fact that older workers will play a decisive role alongside women in cushioning the intensifying shortage of skilled workers. According to forecasts by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, if the general conditions remain unchanged, there will probably be a shortage of around half a million workers on the Swiss labour market as early as 2030.

However, those who believe that employers alone are responsible for this are far off the mark. After all, the duty is incumbent on everyone, each one for himself. We all have to realize that there is no way around continuing to educate ourselves throughout our lives and keeping ourselves up-to-date. Whereas in the past, structural change could be absorbed by a generation change, the world of work today changes several times during a working life. At the same time, we have to remain flexible, not only in terms of where we work and what we do, but also in terms of our payroll: After all, as a society we should accept that things don't always go up - especially since the big investments are usually made between 30 and 50. The emerging model of the bow career shows that it is quite conceivable that in future the sudden big cut will not come with retirement, but that a gear will be shifted back and responsibility will be gradually relinquished.

All this shows that a false dramatization of the topic "50plus" does not help anyone. What is needed is a broad, serious and fact-based discussion - and acceptance of the unpleasant fact that it is not the state that can save us, but that we have to do this ourselves.

Published on 09. December 2019 by Maurice Desiderato