“Age to me means nothing. I can’t get old; I’m working. I was old when I was twenty-one and out of work. As long as you’re working, you stay young. When I’m in front of an audience, all that love and vitality sweeps over me and I forget my age.” – George Burns
So last week I authored a blog titled, “From Civil Engineer to…,” which discussed some of the different careers civil engineering professionals have transitioned into as a result of being laid off in the midst of this recession. We posted this blog on dozens of LinkedIn discussion boards that generated some lively conversation and we learned of a number of folks who are now doing something new. For those that have been able to find an opportunity again within the profession, we uncovered that many of them are making less than they were prior to being laid off. But a reoccurring theme within those discussions came from those engineers with 35+ years of experience; they are frustrated with what they see as age discrimination, and as a result are not being hired…or even considered for hire. I am not here to fight the age discrimination battle as I have no desire to, nor do I have the credentials. But I would like to use this opportunity to challenge those who are 55+ (and those who are on their way) to help them become more marketable so that any thought of age discrimination is thrown out the window. Here is a sampling of some of the comments that I extracted from the elder statesmen of the civil engineering community on the discussion boards:
“It seems like such a waste that the industry has tossed so many engineers and lost a generation of knowledge and mentoring. On a more personal level, I am frustrated, feeling that two educations are not being used and that I have lost some prime earning years. “We” have always been told get a science degree or two and it will be OK, you will always be employed and live the dream. Well, that isn’t true.”
“I haven’t gone anywhere…..I am still here, water and wastewater consulting experience of 30+ years. Trying to sell my services as a sole proprietor to prospective clients, or as an experienced client manager to professional services firms is about as rewarding as selling refrigerators to Eskimos”
“However, as is obtained nowadays employers are increasingly bypassing more experienced civil engineers for younger just out of school candidates and expecting them to do senior /experienced engineer work only because they fear they can’t pay more highly experienced engineers. However they should not fear experience;”
“I am presently working with a group of seasoned professionals that can handle just about any problem with little direction. What a difference in the caliber of design product! The client knows and appreciates that quality and I am confident they will continue to use our service. Managers should be aware of the value of that quality and the little comparative cost difference as a percentage of the entire project, it represents. “
“Companies were happy to have me a few years ago, but the work seems to have dried up now I have turned 60”
“Maybe its time to start a consultancy employing only over 60s…and show the kids we’ve still got it!”
As most of you know, I have made a career out of recruiting civil engineering professionals, and these same frustrations are often conveyed to me by those professionals in the 55+ crowd. That said, I have also been successful in placing professionals who merely based upon their graduation dates or the gray hair on their head may be considered to be “over the hill.” Here are some of the single traits that I have found that makes these “silver-haired” experts look “platinum” :
PLATINUM: They take good care of themselves physically and still find time exercise on a regular basis. When they arrive for meetings they still wear a suit…with a tie.
SILVER: They have “let themselves go” and believe that their breadth of experience is all that matters.
POINT BEING: Looks and presentation do matter, and first impressions are often, well, first impressions.
PLATINUM: They have somehow found a way to keep that “fire” burning in their belly. They continue to search for creative solutions and opportunities to differentiate themselves, and their companies, from the competition.
SILVER: They are stuck in their old ways and believe if something worked just fine a decade ago it will work fine today. They are looking to ride slowly off into the sunset.
POINT BEING: Companies and clients want innovation; they want someone who is continuously looking for ways to make things even better. They want people who enjoy taking on challenges and have the continued desire to learn and grow.
PLATINUM: They are very active in their local and national associations. That is, they seek out opportunities to present to their professional community, and when given those opportunities they are engaging and memorable. They keep up with their network and with networking…in good times and in bad.
SILVER: They limit their professional interaction to those that surround them in the office and at client meetings.
POINT BEING: You’ve heard of old adage, “location, location, location,” right? Same concept.
PLATINUM: They are flexible. That is, they are open to relocation, travel, or TDY.
SILVER: 9-5, no longer than a 30 minute commute, not willing to travel.
POINT BEING: The more flexible you are, the more opportunities exist.
PLATINUM: They have become experts in niche services (i.e. rail/transit, tunneling, process engineering, long-span bridge, ITS, green infrastructure, etc) that are subsets of a broader industry focus. They have mastered the art of Project Execution Delivery / Program Management / Operations / Business Development.
SILVER: They continue to hold Project Manager roles on bread-and-butter projects.
POINT BEING: Do you know how many Land Development Project Managers there are?
PLATINUM: They are mentors; and memorable and effective ones at that.
SILVER: Focuses purely on themselves.
POINT BEING: People you mentor will remember you when opportunities arise. Business owners will hire you to mentor their younger staff so they can more on driving sales. Companies will hire you to fill the gap between the existing aging leadership and the next generation of leaders. Catch my drift?
PLATINUM: They have found / earned their way into larger and higher profile projects which increase their industry exposure…and they have experienced success.
SILVER: They are constantly content and show no desire to grow or be challenged.
POINT BEING: Are you a tortoise running a marathon, or are you a rabbit looking for the next sprinting race? And if you are the tortoise in the marathon, are you willing to turn on the after-burners from time-to-time?
It’s no secret that there are plenty of companies out there who shy away from hiring those professionals with “too much experience (wink, wink).” And for or many companies, there are valid reasons why they are not willing to hire someone with 35+ years of experience. No matter what the perception or reality may or may not be on this topic, my desire is to share some of my insight that comes from nearly 16 years of experience in recruiting AEC professionals. With all the “platinum” and “silver” in this blog, my hope is that I have provided you with a little nugget of GOLD that may make a difference for you or someone you know.
And in line with the quote at the beginning of this blog, may vitality sweep over YOU and may potential employers forget about YOUR age.
Comments and lively discussion always welcome.