Pandemic Having Negative Impact On Older Workers

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Evelyn and her grandson. Courtesy: Brandon Schenk

KAWARTHA LAKES – Since the pandemic touched down in Canada, securing employment amid layoffs and stiff competition may seem like a daunting task for many, particularly for older individuals.

According to Gloria Clark, Employment Coordinator at Job Quest, a division of community living Trent Highlands that specializes in working with individuals with disabilities or barriers to employment in Lindsay, the competition for office work is immensely stiff right now. And while the retail market would be on a hiring blitz right now for the holidays, that sector has also come to a halt, causing even more of a slow down for job seekers, she said.

“There aren’t part time jobs out there like there used to be.”

Clark recently worked with an older female client that was seeking an office administrative position. One position she applied for and did not land had her up against 200 other applicants.

“She was an older female, she had excellent skills and experience,” she said. “Some employers want fresh out of school and up to date on social media.”

Clark also noted that since the pandemic began, many older aged job seekers could fall into the criteria of being more susceptible to COVID and the risks that come with it. Employers may consider what age group they fall into as well as possible sick time, she added.

In July, Clark began to work with six different women over the age of 40, looking for employment and since then she has only been able to find a part time position for one of those women.

As for Evelyn von Sichartshofen, 59, finding employment since the pandemic began has been impossible. She has worked as a tour guide for the last 17 years but has since been out of work due to the pandemic.

“I have skills and I’ve never had trouble looking for work,” she said. “I find they all sound gung hoe during the first interview before they see me.”

von Sichartshofen is a well educated women, speaking two languages with an impressive resume, boasting years of experience in the tourism sector. She began her career as a flight attendant for 10 years and then moved on as a tour guide, travelling all over the world.

And even though her resume has been revamped and her skills are relevant, she says securing a job has been stressful and unsuccessful.

von Sichartshofen has applied to over 100 jobs, all ranging from a Walmart customer service clerk to a hotel janitorial position, with no luck. She also has many co-workers and friends that are experiencing the same situation.

“We are smart people, we speak two languages, it’s just frustrating,” she said. “If I can’t tour next year, then I have no choice but to go on welfare. I don’t want to live off the government I like my independence and I love to work.”

von Sichartshofen believes employers are likely deterred by her age or believe she will return to tourism once the pandemic is resolved.

“They know I’m at least over 40 by looking at my work history,” she said. “I knew it would be tough, I’m not a spring chicken anymore.”

von Sichartshofen has also worked with an employment centre which she says was not beneficial in her search for employment.

Experts say with the Pandemic, there are far more people looking for work than on a normal basis. As for those in the tourism field, they are all looking for work due to pandemic lay offs and the younger ones have a better chance at getting the job, she added.

According to Dawn McColl, Assistant Executive Director at VCCS Employment Services in  Lindsay, she has seen a decrease in the amount of older aged individuals who are coming through their doors looking for work.

“This particular age group was identified early on during COVID as high risk and many were not and are still not comfortable job searching,” she said

Often, older women are also caregivers for their spouse or older parents and they may have children in the home that they need to care for and that’s challenging to fit into a work schedule, especially during the pandemic, she added.

“It’s not only a risk for them but if they are caregivers going out to work, they’re bringing the risk home.”

According to McColl, depending on their situation, some older individuals who collect a pension, have supplemental income or are eligible for other benefits during COVID, it may not be financially feasible or worth the risk to go to work. She also noted that the demand for work in some sectors is high.

“At the same time, many workers have been laid off and are now job searching,” she said. “There are people of different ages competing for the same jobs.”

Recently VCCS filled positions with older workers but according to McColl, many older workers feel agism is a problem. VCCS conducted a survey of older workers and job seekers, 55 and older. According to the survey, the participants felt that the number one challenge in finding and securing work is having the ability to adequately demonstrate or market their own skill sets, enabling employers to see where their tranferable skills fit into the job.

The second biggest challenge they identified is that they struggle to job search using technology effectively in a virtual world. Older job seekers also felt very strongly that their age played a role in preventing them from gaining employment.

According to the survey the top three things that helped older aged clients was building resumes that highlighted their transferrable skills, assistance in participating in effective online job search and help with interviews.

“If you’re a business hiring and you have all of those resumes to look at, does age play a part, it depends on the job and the employers perception, said McColl. “What does your resume say, what skills and competencies do you have that are relevant to the job and is the job seeker doing an strategic job search that is effective and produces results. It’s really a science in terms of the job search.”

If an older individual has been applying for work and has submitted over 100 applications, McColl believes it could be time to change the approach. She also noted that 75% of jobs are found in the hidden job market, openings that are not publicized.

“Often its who you know,” she said.

McColl suggests working with an employment counsellor to identify skills in a different way while participating in a strategic job search. She also suggests tailoring resumes and cover letters to each position that you apply for.

“If its not working, its time to change, you don’t have to struggle on your own,” said McColl. “Ask for help and support.”

According to Sean Dooley, Labour Market Information Analyst with the Workforce Development Board in Peterborough, the pandemic has had a negative effect on older individuals looking for work.

“Overall, the effects of the pandemic have been causing older workers, and women in particular to have lower levels of employment,” he said. “While the unemployment rate has doubled, many have dropped out of the labour force entirely.”

The drop in employment among women aged 55 and over amounts to a reduction of 47,100 workers provincially since October 2019 to October 2020, he added.

Dooley said that the majority of older women that lost employment were those that had been working part-time prior to the pandemic.

Those looking for assistance in finding employment can contact Job Quest, 33 Lindsay St., Lindsay, 705-878-5627 or VCCS Employment Services, 370 Kent St., Lindsay, 705-328-0180

According to Statistics Canada, employment rates since October 2019-2020 provincially are as follows:

Current Employment Rate (Aged 55 years and over):
Male: 41.6% (down 2.0% from October 2019)
Female: 30.5% (down 2.7% from October 2019)

Current Unemployment Rate (Aged 55 years and over):
Male: 6.5% (up 3.5% from October 2019)
Female: 6.7% (up 3.1% from October 2019)

Current Participation Rate (Aged 55 years and over):
Male: 44.5% in October 2020 (down 0.5% from October 2019)
Female: 32.7% in October 2020 (down 1.8% from October 2019)