N.H.’s Changing Workforce: Adapting to the changing job-search landscape

NHBR recently held a roundtable discussion in conjunction with AARP New Hampshire to focus on a topic at the top of mind of many people in the state and beyond: the best way to find a job. The in-depth discussion looked at job search skills, resources and conceptual thinking on the topic, with ideas for 50+ job-seekers and others.Taking part in the roundtable were:

• Elyse Barry, a longtime executive coach and expert on executive performance and development, of Sojourn Partners, Bedford

• Darrell Gates, deputy commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security

• Fred Kocher, president of Kocher & Company, volunteer president, AARP-NH, and president, New Hampshire High Technology

• Russ Ouellette, a specialist in organizational development and managing partner, Sojourn Partners, Bedford

• Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues at AARP’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Fred Kocher: The older generation, even in the tech sector, continues to work for financial needs, mostly. They need the income for living, health-care benefits. One of my clients in the state, a tech company, did a survey on the manufacturing floor and found that 47 percent of the people on the floor were over 50.

It just gives you an indication of how much the older workforce is still involved, even in the tech sector.

It cuts across so many different businesses and industries, even in this post-recessionary period, where younger people are trying to find jobs, older people are trying to keep their jobs. So that raises some other issues.

Darrell Gates: The positive thing is, of the 750,000 individuals in the New Hampshire civilian labor force, close to 700,000 of them – 695,000 – are working. There are about 50,000 that are unemployed, but they’re not the same 50,000 that were unemployed a year ago or two years ago.

We like to focus on a positive message. This is a temporary period in your life (being unemployed). What can we do to help you bridge your last job to your future job? Use this time wisely to gather the skills and abilities necessary to make the next separation, if it should happen, easier, and have better transferable skills.

What we have found is that, many of the older workers that we’re dealing with have been with the same company for years. What we’re talking to them about is how to look for work, because they just don’t know anymore. Once you get the interview is one thing, but it’s finding the interview through all the new methodologies that you look for work.

We see it as our role to help them navigate the various methodologies that individuals can find work now. It’s so much more complex now.

Russ Ouellette: One person comes to me, he was a CFO for a company for a while — it was the second company he worked at, the second job he had. He was about 55 years old, and he had been out of work a year.

He said – his words – “I bought into the scheme that you were supposed to retire at 60 years old. I bought into this, but I don’t want to retire. I don’t know what else to do.”

He started a LinkedIn page, he’s trying to network, he’s trying to do the contemporary behaviors the younger workers kind of do. He knows this, but can’t do it. Petrified. He’s continuing to look for the perfect job, with the perfect benefits, perfect location. Buying into an old philosophy of work.

There’s a kind of transition going on, and I don’t think everyone’s gotten the memo yet. The transition is, maybe the answer is not looking for that perfect job. That is the answer; in the future, it might not be that way.

Gates: I think that, for many people, it’s going to be more than a one-step process. For whatever the case may be, the longer you’re unemployed, the more – for lack of a better work – baggage you bring along with you. It’s a perceived baggage — it’s not really there.

You have an employer community who says, “This guy’s pretty good. Why didn’t anybody else want him between now and 12 months ago?”

As soon as you become employed, there are certain conclusions that people draw because you’re working. “Well, he’s obviously hard-working because he prefers to work rather than be unemployed. He has that level of desire or ambition to work.”

Deborah Russell: I think that this issue is a lot more complicated than even we think.

I agree with you, the rules have changed; there’s a lot of rules that have changed, which is what makes this more complicated.

I think the difference today is that there are industries that are imploding that are not going to come back. Companies have down-sized and have now right-sized, so they have learned to do more with less.

The rules have all changed for job-seekers, particularly for older job seekers. I have been going to job fairs all around the country. I’ve been to Atlanta, where the economy is not as depressed, yet there were huge lines coming to these career fairs. I’ve been to New York, with some of the most sophisticated people – 6,000 people coming to that career fair. And I’ve been in Cleveland, Ohio, where you’re talking Midwesterners, they live off of the auto manufacturing industry that has also imploded. These are people for whom finding another job is not going to be easy because, first of all, the industry’s not there, and second of all, “Joe” has been with the same company running the forklift for the past 30 years. He has no education, and now he doesn’t know what to do.

We’re at a point in time where we’re going to have to do a lot more hand-holding. It’s not just about finding another job; it’s about finding another career that may be so different from what you’ve been doing and what else comes with that. So you need training.

Ouellette: There is research that says – and I don’t know what the numbers are – the older worker, or the “third age” worker, wants an alternative. They want to do stuff they care about, they want to use their skills in a different way, they want to do something different. I don’t think our institutions are set up that way, I don’t think the state government is thinking that way. Even our social services, we just want to solve the problem right away, versus how do we get to a point where we change the infrastructure or the way companies think about stuff?

My point is that it sounds like fundamental change, foundational change about education.

Kocher: In the tech sector, there aren’t as many young engineers graduating from college. Tech companies in particular, because they’re dependent on engineers and those with technology skills, are keeping their older workers aboard. But what they have to do is continually train them. Technology’s changing like that.

So most tech companies have in-house training, not only to train the younger workers coming in, but to keep the older workers up to date as they decide to stay on, even if it’s part time.

We’re becoming much more of a technological workplace, so the skills are needed by every generation.

Elyse Barry: And do you want to train them for jobs when you’re not even sure the jobs are going to be there? Do you want to invest in the people creating the training program and the trainees for two years unless you have a really strong feeling where this is going?

Q. Are businesses are not communicating what they need, where they’re going?

Russell: In Arizona, the Maricopa County Community College system has a very strong partnership with the employer community, where they have said, “These are the kind of skills that we’re looking for.” The community colleges are working with employers to actually develop curricula that actually meets those needs. So people that are coming out of the schools are, in fact, a lot more marketable.

When we’re talking about people who are in their mid-50s who can’t afford to retire or who don’t want to retire — it’s a massive group of people who, I think, need intense support.

Gates: Unemployment is not easy on anyone, but I think it is easier on someone in some respects because the decision is made for them when that product is no longer in demand. They know, going out of the gate, “I’m going to need retraining.”

It’s harder for an individual who has marketable skills, who knows they’re of value, who knows, “I’m ready to go to work for someone,” but they can’t find that someone.

It’s easier for us to help individuals when it’s more obvious. I would be the same way — give me the first six months to see if I can find something. I’m not going to think that I need to be retrained because I have training, I have value, I just need the opportunity to get in somewhere.

Ouellette: I want people to think about all of this long before there’s a separation.

In the younger generation, in their mindset, there is more continuous learning, always updating skills. Older workers have their perspective, too, but why are people coming to us completely surprised?

I think people, fundamentally, have to think we have a certain responsibility to be CEO of ourselves, to take our careers seriously enough to make sure that we’re honed and that we have a longer outlook.

Russell: You’re absolutely right. I would say 30 years from now, if this happens again, we will be in a much better place.

But now we’re dealing with people who are in the moment — here and now — and they did not do that. They did not think of themselves as a portable employee.

In certain industries, there is that level of sophistication that you should always be your own CEO, certainly in the ad agencies, PR and even in some of the high-tech firms, where people know that things come and go. But in some of these other presumably stable industries, including auto, people thought, “I will work here for the rest of my life, and then I will retire, and then I will leave.”

All of that went up in the air.

The challenge that we would have is that older people don’t like risk. Unlike a younger person who is flying by the seat of their pants — if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, I’ll to eat Oodles of Noodles if I have to – that’s not how older people want to live.

The theme that keeps coming back over and over is people need that level of hand-holding. They need to sit down with someone who can assess where they are, where they are trying to go, what the possibilities are, and infusing a little dash of reality. All of that needs to happen in order for people to be successful.

I worry about that mid-50s and above age group really struggling, not only with finding a job, but not even knowing where to go.

Barry: Part of the issue is that older people are less willing to defer gratification at this point in their career. If you go into a high-tech start-up company, and you’re 25 years old, someone says to you, you’re going to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and you may end up with big stock options — you’re young.

Whereas you get to a certain point in life where you don’t have 18 hours a day and you don’t really know if you have five years to put into this thing to see whether it’s going to turn out.

Maybe there’s another way of thinking about it, not so much as they’re risk-adverse. They’re willing to take a risk, but not to the extent where you’re really going to defer payment or gratification for a long time.

Q. Let’s talk about some specifics of job search techniques — what is working and how to get older workers in touch with those things.

Gates: The first message we give everyone is that looking for work is a full-time job. You need spend at least 40 hours a week or more.

You need to dress as if you’re going to work, because once you’ve dressed, you’re more apt to do the things throughout the entire day.

It’s still old school in what you need to do when you get the interview. What’s changed a lot is how you land the interview.

Doing your homework about the company, knowing when they say, “Do you have any questions?” to have questions. Those are still all important things to do.

What’s changed is how to find a job. You’re talking about the social networks now. I would be lost myself. The last time I searched for work, it was through an application, and filling one out, and I’ve been there 26 years since. Now it’s the different methodologies on how you land it.

Word of mouth is still an important factor. We’re trying to set up these networking groups where individuals tend to depend upon each other.

Oftentimes, the job isn’t advertised somewhere. It’s through knowing a friend of a friend who’s hiring. These networking groups have been extremely effective in landing jobs through each other.

I keep telling my staff, yes, the methodologies have changed, it’s all electronic, you don’t see paper anymore, but some things haven’t changed, especially when you’re in that chair being interviewed by somebody.

Kocher: At the High Tech Council, during times of economic hardship, individual memberships, often of people above 50, goes up about 10 percent.

That’s one great way to meet people who have jobs to offer — you have to rub elbows, you can’t sit at home.

Ouellette: Networking isn’t like going to a meeting where someone’s going to like my resume and take it. It might take time.

That’s another part of my message – start now. Get involved in your industry conferences.

If you’re unemployed, go to where the jobs are. Start making inroads to where those people are.

One of the best lessons I ever got was going to work for a nonprofit. I had a job, but I volunteered. I learned a ton of skills I would have never learned otherwise. Plus, it shows a different level of your community, and that’s important.

Kocher: I would set up lunches and breakfasts with everybody I know. I’ve had friends who have done that for a period of months or a year, and have worn out their welcome in some places, but eventually these people got jobs, and are now heading up social service agencies in the state.

Who do you know? Make a list.

Russell: I go back to the conversation I had with this gentleman in Cleveland who drove a forklift. I was telling him about functional resumes and how you put together a functional resume, which is better than a chronological resume because you won’t be able to tell how old you are.

He finally looked at me and said, “Ma’am, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

We did an inventory of his skills, and he didn’t feel he had any. As we started writing them down, we went through a sheet. He would have never done that on his own. That’s not something you can say, do on your own, figure it out, and translate that into a job.

Gates: As of Jan. 1, the job training fund in New Hampshire is going to be increased to $2 million. The purpose of that additional million is to assess the skills and abilities of the unemployed, early, out of the gate, so that we’ll have a better sense in terms of what they’re lacking. And/or to help them understand, “I do have skills,” or interests, and what are transferable.

The other $1 million is used for incumbent workers. The best way to sustain your long-term employment is to enhance your skills today.

Incumbent worker training is a way for employers to say, “OK, I want to invest in my workers and I want them to have skills so that they can sustain longer-term employment with us, and will be more valuable in cross-training.”

Russell: I wanted to talk a little about what AARP is doing this year, something that I think that has an opportunity to expand.

We’re partnering with a company called the Employment Guide to offer career fairs across the country. This year we’ll execute 48 of them in 19 states.

AARP’s role is to provide that one-on-one kind of intervention for those who are coming in the door. We have partnered with the local community colleges in each of those cities and we have career counselors as well as resume reviewers. We provide information to help them navigate the Internet – learning how to sign up for LinkedIn, learning how to post your resume online — that sort of thing.

We also have a CD that we produce that has about 30 or so tip sheets on a wide variety of issues, from writing a winning resume to the latest in interviewing skills.

We also do Webinars – Webinars on navigating your job loss, how to apply for a federal job, and that sort of thing. That is also online on the aarp.org Web site.

Finally, we have a workshop called the “Power of Promoting Yourself at 50+.”

We can’t create jobs, but we can help them prepare, so that by the time a job is available, they have all of the skills and resources needed to do that.

Many older workers are hugely qualified, would do well at a number of jobs, but they’re over-qualified. How do they approach their interview and still meet employer expectations?

Gates: I think that’s what we’re trying to build upon on the second initiative of the governor’s plan, which is to allow individuals while on unemployment to sort of have an extended audition for an employer.

Oftentimes, the individual has the abilities and the skills, but the employer doesn’t know if they’re going to be a good fit. They don’t know if they have the right attitude, or if they’re going to get along with their co-workers or what have you.

We’re allowing individuals to take 24 hours out of the work week and basically volunteer for an employer with no problem whatsoever with their benefits. Their only requirement is that they conduct an active work search the other days of the week.

What we’re trying to do right now is build upon that with the employer community and let them know it’s OK if you want to give this individual a try and let them show you what they can do. It basically gives them a license to have what is essentially an extended interview.

Q. What other resources are there for job-seekers?

Russell: AARP is going to launch a new job board that will expand the jobs from about 30,000 to about 2-1/2 million. That will significantly augment the kind of job opportunities for members looking online.

We’re coming out with three new videos with the idea that you can take very complicated ideas and boil them down into two-minute videos. One is on interviewing, one on resume writing, one on networking – because our feeling is that people know what networking is, but how do you leverage networking? That’s a whole different thing.

N.H.’s Changing Worforce series is a collaboration between NHBR and AARP-New Hampshire.