Older job seekers not so optimistic

Finding a job can be a discouraging task at any age — but older job seekers are even less optimistic about their prospects than their younger counterparts, says a new report from Statistics Canada.

The study released today looked at data collected by the Employment Insurance Coverage Survey (EICS) from 2006 to 2010 as well as data from the Labour Force Survey. The goal: to see how different age groups approached the job hunt, how they perceived their prospects and what compromises they were willing to make. The study focused on workers ages 20-64 — the group researchers deemed most involved in the workforce.

The results? Researchers found many similarities among different age groups, but found some significant differences between younger job seekers (ages 20-35) and their older counterparts (ages 55-65).

Here’s a look at some of the findings.

Different age groups rely on different job search strategies

While workers of all ages report spending about the same amount of time on the hunt — about 13-15 hours per week — they’re not always using the same job search strategies. All age groups reported their number one job search strategy was to contact employers directly, but older job seekers were less likely to do so than younger job seekers (42 per cent versus 49 per cent).

What other methods are job hunters using? Researchers found that older job seekers rely on job ads nearly twice as much as younger job seekers — and they’re less likely to go online to search for opportunities. Members of most age groups were equally likely to visit a private or public employment agency.

One troublesome trend we noticed among the data is that very few respondents in all age groups reported talking to friends and family or their union for help in their job hunt — and other networking methods weren’t specifically included. With an estimated 75-80 per cent of jobs never advertised, networking may continue to be an under-appreciated job search method.

Older job seekers more likely to accept a wage cut

When you lose a job, sometimes you can’t recoup all of your earning power. In the survey, the majority of workers across all ages groups said they would be willing to accept a wage cut, but older job seekers were the most willing to settle for less. Just over 80 per cent reported they would accept such an offer while 69 per cent of younger workers felt the same.

Researchers note there could be any number of reasons why older job seekers are more likely to make wage concessions. It could be because they have fewer expenses than their younger colleagues — such as paid off mortgages or no children at home. They might also have significant assets already built up. Older workers tend to be unemployed longer than younger workers, so taking a wage cut could be a move to stay competitive in the job market.

Another significant point: older job seekers are more likely to be looking for part-time work. In which case, a salary cut is expected.

Younger workers may be less flexible about money, but they are more flexible about where they live — 43 per cent of them reported looking for work outside of their community compared to 39 per cent of older job seekers.

Older job seekers more pessimistic about their prospects

How job seekers viewed their future prospects could also affect their willingness to accept a wage cut. Job seekers were asked to rate their chances of finding a suitable in position in the next three months as “very good,” “good” or “not very good.” You don’t need to guess which group was the most pessimistic about their chances — 58 per cent of older job seekers reported their outlook as being “not very good.”  That’s almost twice the number of younger job seekers who felt the same way. Even when researchers adjusted for factors like education and length of unemployment, the oldest job seekers remained the most pessimistic.

On the other end of the spectrum, 22 per cent of younger job seekers reported their chances of finding a job as being “very good” — only 11 per cent of older job seekers were so optimistic.

Age and health viewed as obstacles

Why do older job seekers have such a gloomy outlook? The EICS followed up by asking what job seekers felt they needed in order to find a good job.

Unfortunately for older job seekers, their perceived obstacles were things that can’t be easily changed: one quarter of older job seekers felt they would have an easier time job hunting if they were younger and healthier. Not surprisingly, only 2 per cent of job seekers ages 20-34 felt their health and age were a barrier. (The survey didn’t ask about ageism facing older workers, but we know it’s an important issue.)

Older job seekers were also more likely than younger job seekers to feel that there weren’t enough opportunities out there.

However, older job seekers have advantages too — only 3 per cent of job seekers ages 55-64 felt more education would help them while just over 18 per cent of job seekers ages 20-34 felt their academic training wasn’t enough. Less than 2 per cent of older job seekers felt they needed more work experience — compared to 10 per cent of the youngest job seekers.

Most age groups agreed that more skills training, help in the job search or help starting their own business would be helpful.

More to the story?

How accurate are these findings? As with any survey, the results are only as good as what people self-report. We may wonder how honest people are when a government agency comes calling.

In addition, researchers note that the EICS has limitations — especially its small sample size. Experts say that in any given period, there’s only about 3000 participants who are unemployed and actively seeking employment. People over age 65 were excluded altogether, yet research shows that more people of “retirement age” are working longer or “unretiring”.

Remember, no single report has all the answers — and we know there’s as much variation within a demographic group as there is between demographic groups. In the end, the onus is on all job seekers to stay up to date with job search techniques and use whatever resources are available to them.

Read the full report The job search of the older unemployed.