More than half a million Czechs are currently out of work, and the prospects are particularly bleak for people in their 50s who are too young to retire, but by all accounts too old to be of interest to potential employers. People who find themselves out of a job in this age group have only a 50 percent chance of getting employed and the threat of never finding work again is very real. This is something that the NGO Alternativa 50+ is trying to change.
Jarmila Laznová is in her early 50s. When she was made redundant as an administrative worker she thought that her computer skills and good working knowledge of German would stand her in good stead on the job market. She sent out hundreds of job applications and motivation letters but two years later has come no closer to finding work. She says the experience is extremely daunting.
“You meet with total disinterest. I browse all the job sites constantly, I send out hundreds of CVs and nothing. I got invited to a few job interviews over those two years but was always politely turned down. At best people just write back and say they picked another applicant.”
The head of Alternativa 50+ Nikola Šimandlová says this happens all the time. There are over 600 thousand people currently out of work and approximately 40 thousand job vacancies on the market and the chances that employers will pick someone in their 50s are small.
“I think the main reason is that these prejudices exist in Czech society - people in their 50s are automatically expected to be less-flexible in learning new things, computer illiterate and low on foreign language skills. And so they often get weeded out without being given a chance. It’s the same as with other forms of discrimination –the employer will not say outright you are too young for us, or too old, or just back from maternity leave –they will just not consider you. But we speak to people whom we are helping and it is clear that this is something they come up against.”
The number of unemployed over 50 has risen with every passing year and especially in some fields an older person’s chances of finding work are practically non-existent. Alternativa 50+ helps them pick requalification courses, gives them fresh motivation as well as psychological and legal advice. Nikola Šimandlová says getting independent advice and meeting others with the same problem helps.
“People who find themselves out of a job should remain active and keep trying. I realize that it is disheartening to send out a hundred job applications and get turned down every time. So we try to keep their spirits up, motivate them and if possible increase their chances of success by helping them improve their CV or suggest a requalification course that might be good for them. It is very important that they do not succumb to depression and a feeling of uselessness although sometimes it is very hard to avoid that.”
Labour experts believe that unless coordinated action is taken –by the labour ministry, the public and the private sphere - to increase job opportunities for older people by 2050 most people in the 50 plus age bracket will be dependent on state handouts.