Sunday, October 01, 2006

Taking Employment Issues to Task

This morning, I read an essay written by a member of the "writerslife" Yahoo group I joined recently and it hit a nerve that's been a bit raw in me for many years now.

Age discrimination.

As someone who is a member of the "senior citizen" group now and also one who has experienced first hand the difficulty of trying to find gainful employment -especially in a new career direction - as an older worker, this essay really hit the nail on the head in many areas.

Finding decent employment in the area where I live - for me - has always been problematic though.

When I first graduated from high school, the fact I had NO work experience to bring to the employers' table was against me. Jobs that really didn't require lots of training (education, etc) to be eligible to apply for were denied to me because of my "inexperience" but how is one to gain that needed experience in the first place? One has to start someplace.

I worked for roughly eight years in the Washington, D.C. area when I was in my 20's and for the most part at that time, I didn't have all that much difficulty in getting interviews or employment. As I gained a little knowledge here and there to show a potential employer, I generally felt that aspect was given fair consideration.

But, after I moved back to my hometown in central Pennsylvania, it seemed employers in this area put very little stock in what I had done before nor did they use the aspect often touted in various college courses I took later in life either - something called "transferrable work skills."

I recall two instances in particular that happened to me in the 80's in two different job interviews were my abilities and experience -also transferrable work skills - were totally ignored. In one interview, I was told I had "just what they were looking for" except that where I lived was problematic. It seems that employer claimed he needed someone who lived closer to State College than I did to assure that the new worker would be able to be at work daily, on time, etc. My home being 30 some miles from State College and out in the boondocks, he seemed to feel this would be a hindrance to my getting to work in the winter months in a timely fashion.

I pointed out to him that weather factors had only ever prevented me from getting to work one time in well over 15 years of living and working in this region and that was because the temperatures had dropped so low that my car had frozen up - a problem experienced that winter by many folks not just those living on the outskirts of State College but all over the region.

The funny thing about that job interview and my not being hired (for the reasons he gave me) was that the person ultimately hired just happened to be a co-worker of mine at the time at a truckstop restaurant where we both worked as waitresses. That particular person who got the job was fresh out of high school and lived in an area even more remote than where I lived. She was also (obviously) young, blonde, very, very attractive and built like the proverbial "brick S*** house!" Gee, I didn't see that in the job requirements in their advertisement! Also, that particular youngster didn't have any work ethics that she had shown to her co-workers or the management at the truckstop when she would frequently call off from coming in for her shift 15 minutes prior to her start time and thus, leaving us short-handed for what often were the busiest shifts of the week. Hmmm. Wonder if she pulled those same stunts in her new job there?

Another interview I had which really ticked me off was one where I was applying for a position as an "office manager" - something I had several years of experience doing when I had worked in the D.C. area. The guy I interviewed with questioned my ability to "multi-tasking" as he said this was a very busy office and he needed someone who could manage several things at one time - telephone lines, interoffice communications, files, you name it and he didn't see how my current employment as a waitress would possibly provide me with any "training," and inate abilities to multi-task and would I explain how I felt it gave me that type of potential.

Now, obviously this jerk had no clue as to what a good waitress must manage, in her head, while working! You have to be able to see all over the work area to notice new customers entering, setting up folks who have already been seated, getting orders taken, submitted, providing the first parts of the service, all the while mentally keeping track of the timing of when other orders would or should be ready to be delivered, who was going to need more beverages, who had dirty dishes sitting to be grabbed up as you walk by a table, who is ready to check on for dessert, who needs a check delivered - all these things must be balanced mentally as you have no little check list or guideline to follow for each table you are working on throughout the shift. He saw no correlation there though and of course, I was not hired for the position.

When I decided at the grand old age of 46 to go to college, I viewed that educational experience as an opportunity to close up many gaps in my work background by having the ability then to state yes, I am a college graduate, just for openers. The fact the course I chose for my major was one in which a degree was required for employment in that field - my major was rehab education counseling - I thought was broad enough to find a place as a "newbie" and yet, an area where my total background - prior employment, education and general life experience - would all work together to give me a high potential for getting hired.


Employers in this area rarely would even give me the time of day with an interview!

One place wanted to hire someone with a counseling background - preferably with a master's degree - on a parttime basis and paying only $5.00 per hour to boot! The master's degree preference wasn't stated in the job ad - I didn't learn about that until I had wrangled an interview.

At one point, after over two years of constant searching for some type of employment that had some bearing on my education, and at the recommendation of a friend who was employed as a counselor at Penn State (my alma mater), I made an appointment with a gentleman who was a "career counselor" at the university to try to get some pointers perhaps on getting hired at the university. This guy reamed me out because I had had the audacity to apply for a position on campus that had stated in the job description "B.S. required, master's preferred" and how dare I apply for that particular job.

That guy was really an excellent example of how a counselor should operate in that by the time my appointment with him concluded, he had me in tears. Somehow I don't think I would recommend him for a "counseling" position!

I had several agencies tell me - before I graduated - that my life experience as a single parent, active member of a 12-step program group, interest in higher education, etc., all would combine to give me a very good base to bring to a potential work setting in a social service type of employment. And yet, after I graduated and applied then for positions that were available at these same places, I couldn't even get an interview.

Ten years after I graduated from college - at age 50 (thinking I had the cat by the a** then with a degree) I had never been able to find a full-time (or part-time) position in this area utilizing my education. The ONLY fulltime employment I was able to garner just happened to be a return to my former position as assistant manager of a truckstop restaurant - the very type of employment I desperately had wanted to escape when I decided to go to college! Just a touch of irony there, isn't it?

By the time those ten years had passed by though, my health began to fail - a diagnosis of cancer, chemo, radiation, surgery, more chemo and add to that then problems with my back, then legs - what seemed like a never ending litany of issues with my health and I ended up on social security disability as there was now no way I could physically perform up to virtually any employers' requirements.

But the issues I had dealt with during that ten year period of searching for a way to use my education also took a toll on me in yet another part of my life - severe depression and loss of self-esteem because I couldn't even get an opportunity to be considered for a job via an interview, much less trying to show an employer after the fact that I was a very capable individual, knowledgeable and willing to do what was required in the performance of the duties of the profession.

Heck, even the Area Agency on Aging apparently practices a different principle in this area than what it preaches - that older people can be viable workers and still have a lot to contribute to society beyond the age that marks them as a senior citizen. I'm not sure exactly what that age is though - are you?

Just a few of my thoughts - biased as they may be I suppose - about hiring of the "elderly."

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