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35 and older: Caught between new families and old training

In the old socialist system, an individual's skill, ability and personality traits only took one so far. When it came to moving up into the ranks of the successful, what mattered more than anything else was an individual's loyalty to the Communist party. The 1989 revolution changed that old way of thinking. Not only did it rip open the Iron Curtain, it also shattered the glass ceiling where party membership equalled one's meal ticket to success and replaced it with a Western system that places more emphasis on human values in deciding who rises to the top. In the tumult of these changes swirled people in the 35-50 age group, a bracket that was essentially caught in the middle. Already entrenched in careers and many of them providing for families, this generation had to change old habits in midstream.


"Many foreign companies limit the experience they want to 4-5 years."

John Crain, Personnel Select


In the old socialist system, an individual's skill, ability and personality traits only took one so far. When it came to moving up into the ranks of the successful, what mattered more than anything else was an individual's loyalty to the Communist party.

The 1989 revolution changed that old way of thinking. Not only did it rip open the Iron Curtain, it also shattered the glass ceiling where party membership equalled one's meal ticket to success and replaced it with a Western system that places more emphasis on human values in deciding who rises to the top.

In the tumult of these changes swirled people in the 35-50 age group, a bracket that was essentially caught in the middle. Already entrenched in careers and many of them providing for families, this generation had to change old habits in midstream. "Some people coped with these changes successfully," said Juraj Renčko, an analyst in the Slovak Academy of Science's economic analysis and forecasting section. "The others who couldn't cope are having problems now."

Renčko said there was no exact numerical breakdown between those who have made it and are the "pillars of private enterprise [today] in Slovakia," and those who didn't. But all have been affected by Slovakia's sudden switch to capitalism and opening to Western know-how, experience and views of how business is done. "There was a certain continuity and values [under socialism], and these values changed," Renčko said. "The risk of losing jobs is higher and that's something completely new to them."

With an increased risk of job displacement, many 35-50 year-olds have found a sanctuary of sorts in human resource and personal management firms. Firms such as Dr. J.F. Jenewein Management Consulting in Bratislava, an executive search company, target this generation to provide leadership in various fields in Slovakia. Boasting a database of more than 10,000 people, Martin Novotný, a senior consultant, said that 45-50 percent of his firm's candidates are in the 35-50 age group.

The reason J.F. Jenewein has extensive listings for this generation, Novotný said, is because "these people are those who create the management. Over 35 are the most productive years of people's lives in management." Not all candidates 35 and over, though, are primed to be placed into managerial posts, Novotný said. Harking back to the era before 1989, this generation did not have the same opportunities as their younger ilk to capitalize on foreign language learning, especially German, English and French, and Western know-how and management philosophy, he added.

To help these people, Novotný added, J.F. Jenewein offers up its Human Progress Center which "gives them the possibility to get the skills and ability connected with Western know-how." The 35-50 age bracket makes up 20-30 percent of the center's enrollment.

While J.F. Jenewein focuses much activity on the 35-50 age set, another large human resource and personal management firm operating in Slovakia, Personnel Select, does the opposite. Calling his firm "demand, not supply-driven," Personnel Select's country director, John Crain, said his clients are not necessarily seeking the candidate with the most experience.

"Many foreign companies limit the experience they want to 4-5 years," Crain said, because they are afraid that older candidates may have "preconceived notions of how to do the job." "They would prefer to train someone new than retrain older people," Crain added. Roughly 85 percent of Personnel Select's database, Crain said, fall between 22 and 35 years. Only the remaining 15 percent are in the 35 and over age group.

All firms that court the 35 and over group to any extent do run into the same barrier with some individuals who refuse to part with tried and true tradition, such as working longer hours. "Even now, some people [35 years and over] say they won't go to a company," Novotný conceded. "They don't want overtime."

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