The brave new world. This is the kind of high-tech working environment that many firms say older employees can't handle.
"It was a hard kick from the new system," said Alex, who is growing familiar with the term 'staff-cutbacks,' having now been cut back twice. In both cases, Alex was one of his company's top managers, working first as sales director and then as company director. "Now, with 30 years of business experience in export-import, I can't find a decent position," he said.
According to employment analysts and recruitment companies, Alex's story is not uncommon. Slovakia's relatively young job market has an increasing number of interesting job opportunities, but demands an ever younger and more highly educated candidate to fill top positions. The only hope that older professionals still have, human resources firms say, is to sell their knowledge and experience to well established firms with young staffs.
"These [older] people should not have idealised opinions about themselves," said Martin Krekáč, company recruiting manager at H.R. Jenewein. "They have chances to find jobs, but must be able to assess themselves and think realistically about what they can offer the job market."
Krekáč explained that people over 45 years of age are increasingly being placed in advisory and supervisory positions, but are not being awarded the crucial core management jobs. "They can lobby for the firm, represent it or supervise junior management," he said, "but they are not being given responsibility for the most important decisions."
Krekáč explained that the Slovak job market now favours people under 40 years of age, as it is convinced that older employees are more staid and conservative in their thinking and unable to adjust to the rapidly changing environment of a transitional economy. "Young people are usually preferred, especially by foreign firms that are increasing their staff in Slovakia," he said. According to Krekáč, most companies build a management team accept people in their 30's and 40's in the belief that these people will remain in their posts for eight to ten years.
Older unemployed people say only McJobs are open to them.
These homilies did not cut much ice with Alex, who has fruitlessly completed 15 job applications since January."Even if one cooperates, the labour office rarely offers satisfactory positions for university graduates or former managers," he said.
Officials at the National Labour Office (NÚP), an independent employment supervisory authority, said they were monitoring the situation on the job market, and that despite the NÚP's limited resources, the office offered requalification courses for the unemployed, and benefits for employers who hired older people.
"We create new positions for people over 45 and we set the conditions for potential employers to accept these people and keep them in the firm for a minimum period," said Lucia Senderáková, head of the NÚP Analysis Department. Senderáková explained that firms intending to open new positions seek new employees at the labour office. The NÚP, through its local offices, then proposes that the firm hire a certain number of older people, whose salaries will be met by the NÚP for one year.
"These employees produce capital, so the firm gets the net profits from their output as it does not have to pay them," said Senderáková. In the contract, she added, the NÚP stipulates the condition that the employer keep the older workers on for another year "at their own expense, which means that the NÚP does not pay." Senderáková stated that the number of companies which had chosen this programme had "increased dramatically" in the last several years, but could provide no specific figures to back up her claim.
But despite the NÚP's efforts to turn the tide, the current of corporate opinion would appear to be against the older worker. Jenewein's Krekáč stressed that even big multi-national corporations now used experienced older workers mostly for supervisory and consulting purposes. "These 'seniors', as they can be called in general, bear no responsibility within the company, but the advice they give is often of great importance," said Krekáč.
Lehuta added the observation that often it is the older job applicants themselves who are reluctant to learn new skills and become familiar with the latest technologies. "Some of them are scared of computers, because they think they would not manage to use them," said Lehuta. "If they want to succeed they have to be more flexible and more open to new things," he added.