I have been continuously employed for the last twenty years as a freelance draftsperson who specialized in the production of shop drawings for architectural millwork and cabinetry. Practically all of the shops in my area, with whom I had a relationship, have been having a very difficult time because of the economy.
Since late January of 2009 I have had very little work, which is a new experience for me. I will be sixty years old in 10/09 and have been vigorously searching for work during the past five months without any success. Applications for drafting jobs that I am totally qualified for generally do not elicit any response whatsoever. On the one occasion that someone did explain why I was not hired, they said, "We have decided to hire someone with a different skill set than yours who just needs a little bit of training and fits within our budget." In other words, I asked for too much money and was too experienced, which I believe is often code for age discrimination.
I have researched all aspects of this topic on the internet and have adjusted my resume and pricing as per guidelines that I found for workers over forty years of age. I have also found, and will attend, several in-person workshops in my area that address the problems of the older worker. Today (8/30), in the NY Times style section, there is a very depressing story about this exact subject which focuses on a fifty eight year old man who is trying to deal with the extraordinarily high rate of unemployment among older workers. I also learned that the burden of proof is on the employee and that successful age discrimination suits are few and far between. I also learned that this type of discrimination is the last remaining type that is still somewhat acceptable in the US. Perhaps there are some of you out there who have experienced age discrimination and would want to comment.
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor R:
I think your concern is valid, as I have been experiencing the same thing. I think that employers are more inclined to hire someone younger, especially if they have any type of health insurance program. It is usually fairly easy for an employer to tell your approximate age by the years of experience you claim in an application. I hesitate to admit that I have over thirty years in the trades as a woodworker and draftsman, because it gives away my age.
In an automated age, it is cheaper to train someone to push buttons and load parts than to hire an experienced worker, and it seems like that is the direction that many shops are headed. Machine shops are doing the same thing as woodworking shops, in my opinion, and then complaining about the lack of experienced help. Experienced help expects a level of remuneration that reflects the years of learning that they have put in to the particular trade, and when there are still younger people who are willing to work for much less, to gain some of that experience, it makes for a very tough job market, in an already tough economy.
As to the specific complaint in your post about age discrimination, I think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove, especially when most potential employers do not even have the courtesy to respond to an application. Face it, it is an employers' market right now, and they can pick and choose what type of workforce they want - this does not bode well for those of us who are getting a little long in the tooth. I can remember the last bad recession in the 1980's when jobs were scarce - I was one of the young guys who was taking a job from people like you and me, and I didn't think too much about it, because I needed that job just as badly as I do now.
If I pay someone who is 60 years old more money than someone who is 30 years old for the same skill set, that is discrimination. If I pay a Caucasian man more money than a Hispanic man for the same skill set, that is discrimination.
You have it backwards. You're worth what the market says you're worth. And the market is saying you're not worth what you're asking.
What's happened here is that you have worked 20 years in a field that only takes about 5 years to learn to do well. After that 5 years, you are at the top of the pay scale. The fact that you decided to stay in that type of career for the next 15 years is the choice you made.
As far as the issue of five years versus twenty years of experience goes, I will simply say that each project that I do is unique and offers the challenge of new problems. This is one of the things I particularly like about the shop drawing business and which keeps it fresh for me. It is my belief that one's previous experience has a great deal to do with one's approach to solving new problems in terms of the effectiveness and suitability of the actual engineering and the time that it takes to come up with a solution. To think that one can learn all there is to know about any subject in just five years is wishful thinking.
I do a lot of freelance drafting, but branched out into sign making and milling my own designs on a CNC. I also found two part time jobs completely outside of the drafting business just to make ends meet. It's not easy out there for a 60 year old, I know, but we have the ability to work hard and keep on pushing. Just need to adjust what one is pushing for.
Another factor is the health issue, not health insurance, but health of an older employee. The employer is concerned about frequent callouts, disability leaves, injuries, and other health related factors that may affect productivity and profitability of the business. Don't just blame the employer for discriminating - put yourself in his place and analyze all the factors influencing his decisions.
Iím doing the same type of work as the questioner - shop drawings for woodworking shops. Business is slower than usual, but there still is a fair amount of work out there. Iím continuously striving to improve myself, better my skills and stay on top of new technologies.
To the original questioner: you say you have great experience, but you have not disclosed what your experience is. Are you using CAD to draw and design? Or are you drawing by hand on the drafting board? Are you programming CNC machines? There are many great draftsmen I know who do a great job, but have no experience with computer aided drafting, which is absolutely a must today. 99.9% of businesses have adopted CAD technologies and are not and cannot use older drafting techniques anymore. That may be just another reason.
1. Age discrimination is a real documented problem in this country. In fact, it is now affecting more workers than ever before. In the course of my online research I discovered that the traditional cutoff age of 50 is now showing signs of being lowered to as little as 40 years of age.
2. With all due respect, your concerns as an employer that the health issues of the older worker will adversely affect attendance and/or productivity is a common misconception that is often used to justify exactly the problem that I am talking about. If you Google "advantages of hiring older workers," you will find many articles that I believe will address your concern about health as well as many other typical myths about the older worker. To quote one of them; "They tend to have high attendance, few personal problems, are self motivated and can work without supervision." "They make great role models for younger workers."
3. In 1997 I attended the New York University School of Continuing Education and successfully completed four courses which led to a certificate in computer aided design and drafting. I have been using AutoCAD on an almost daily basis since then and currently use the 2010 release. I completely agree with you about the need to constantly upgrade one's skills.
The biggest problem I have now is the lack of experience in Microvellum and CNC programming. Unfortunately, the six shops that I have regularly worked for on a rotating basis are mid-sized businesses that do not have the money to invest in and/or the need to implement those two technologies. So I am stuck in the classic trap of not having the experience to get hired but needing a job to get the experience.
I have considered the extremely expensive option of purchasing Microvellum and may just have to take the plunge to stay competitive as a freelance worker. I am also considering a class in order to start myself on the path to learning the BIM software called Revit. The use of this software would not be directly applicable to the production of millwork shop drawings, but it is an up and coming product which is slowly gaining market share in other industries that use CAD.
4. My current system of pricing is to charge a set, all-inclusive fee, which includes revisions, for all of my freelance projects. I cannot think of a more equitable and attractive pricing method than that. When I apply to a company for a position I now know that I should not request an hourly wage, but rather ask to be remunerated at whatever rate they are willing to pay.
5. Since the early 1980's I have carried my own personal health insurance plan. I have made it absolutely clear to all prospective employers that I intend to hold on to my plan and not use theirs. This has not seemed to make any difference in their negative hiring decisions.
6. The problem of age discrimination is only likely to get worse in the coming years since many baby-boomers will not be able to retire as soon as they had hoped due to the stock market's severe effect on the value of their IRAs, portfolios, etc. There are also some of us who really enjoy our work and want to continue with it for as many years as possible. I think that employers had better get used to all this and adapt accordingly, especially since many of them complain about how unprepared younger people are to enter the workforce in terms of even simple skills.
I wouldn't hesitate to hire an older employee if I had the need. I know that most of their personal issues are over and they are productive. Heck, I'm one. And face it, how many employees do you hire that you anticipate will be still with you in 5 - 10 years? You'd like to think they would stay, but when they reach a certain level and cannot advance, they start looking to go out on their own and freelance drawings, feeling they can make more money, work from home, and work when they want. I've had several quit to go out on their own, feeling they know it all and can do what they want. Now, when things are slower, they cry foul when they can't get hired full time. Sounds like you all want to have your cake and eat it too.
People in school today are taught that you should expect 5 or more carrier changes in your work life. You cannot expect to reenter the job market after a layoff and get your old job back.
I just had a guy with so-so skills that was laid off from a local shop apply and request a higher rate of pay than he was making at the time of his layoff. Ah, what chutzpa!
That's the general situation. In practice, I have to evaluate every potential applicant for what they bring to the company and at what cost. It should be unbiased and you get no extra points for a good practiced handshake. Sadly it's the way it is.
By the way, I just hired an older guy as well as a student out of design school, so don't give me any BS about being biased.
I don't believe there is such a thing as age discrimination. Legitimate concerns of a prospective employer regarding productivity and profitability of a prospective employee cannot be considered discrimination. And yes, there is an age barrier and there should be. Every employer or self-employed individual must understand that it will be extremely hard to become an employee after a certain age is reached, not because somebody dislikes you for your age. It is the natural aging process which affects humans' abilities to perform (I'm getting no speeding tickets anymore!).That is why we retire after a certain age is reached. Also, age keeps being adjusted lately, and soon we might need to be 120 years old to be eligible for social security benefits.
In a good economy, I would hire older, experienced draftsmen, because there is no direct danger in that position, but I would think twice if I needed to hire an older cabinetmaker or installer. I would say that the age barrier is different for different professions. For draftsmen or engineers, the older and experienced should have the advantage, but not so for somebody who will be using a table saw or shaper on daily basis.
Many (but not all) business owners and managers do not have a clear understanding of shop drawings and CNC programming, and only see the amount of pages or programs churned out - hopefully with an acceptable error rate. I have always taken more time to check for errors and create a fully engineered set of drawings, even though it is almost impossible to get every detail correct on a larger job due to lack of some information. There will almost always be some tune-up or modification in the shop to fit the techniques and tooling that is available. I feel like I am usually categorized as slow, even though my error rate is very low. Speed and production are top priority for most managers, even in very high end shops.
The point mentioned about taking a year to learn a company's process is a good one. How many of us are given that amount of time to learn the processes, tooling and procedures of a particular company? We are expected to turn out drawings and programs that work, as quickly as possible.
One problem that I have is trying to explain to business owners why something takes as much time as it does - I still have a hard time turning out work that I know is not completely shop or machine ready; younger people will tend to send the work out, not knowing what is incomplete about it, while the more experienced draftsman/engineer will still be working out details. I firmly believe that whatever time is taken by a competent engineer will be saved three times over in the shop, but this concept seems to be foreign to many managers.
I detect a business concept of flashing lots of impressive looking drawings in a presentation in order to sell a job, and then dealing with issues later in the shop. I know of several large companies that seem to use this technique well, but if you look behind the curtain, you will see cash-flow and organizational problems that are about to bring them down. It's a smoke and mirrors game, and I guess some of us old guys are too ethical to play very well - if we get hungry enough, we will re-learn how to do faster, sloppier work to supply the market.
Maybe if you went in recognizing where the market rate was and asked for that, you would have a better chance. If you have health insurance and are going to keep it, let the employer know up front. It is 600-800 a month more for someone over 59 than a 20 year old.
Contributor S, it exists and it is illegal. Proof, in individual cases, is not always easy, but it can be managed. It is usually easier to demonstrate in firing cases than hires, but the questioner may wish to seek legal aid if his problem is age (not salary) related.
I'd rather see drawings move through a little quicker, see fewer detailing sheets, but I understand that it speeds the process in the end. I can deal with that.
With that said, there has to be a balance. I had a young draftsman who was extremely fast, but careless and made costly mistakes. I've also found that some older workers are stuck in their ways and don't want to or can't change the way they do things. Then it becomes a struggle and quite frankly, I don't want nor do I have the time for it. I'd rather have someone who does have some experience but at the same time will try to see the way things are today, not 30 years ago.
But it is not illegal if the candidate does not qualify due to different reasons. Would you hire somebody who has respiratory problems, or other health issues? Would you hire somebody who you already know will not benefit your business, either an older or younger person? It's not about the age; it is about performance. Would you hire the questioner? When you already know that he may bring legal action against you if something goes wrong? Just be honest.
Duh! Get a customer and they are gone! I had one guy who rented shop space and said he wanted a permanent job, but he was keeping his rented shop space and machinery.
You have not had an employer for 20 years, as you have been freelancing. Kind of an issue there too. Not much to look at for work ethic, efficiency and working with others as well as taking direct orders from a supervisor.
As far as filing a discrimination suit, at least from what you write, what would you actually claim? Based on the above, it sounds like the people you contacted made reasonable business decisions.
Keep working freelance - sounds like you were able to make a good living doing that. Why are you looking for a job now?
You are correct, it is illegal - made illegal by an entity that has never run a successful business, never had to struggle to make payroll, never put personal assets at risk. That same entity is now operating a trillion dollars in the red, with no apparent concerns, remorse, shame, or viable plan for improvement.
Having said that, older workers are an excellent opportunity for an employer, in my opinion. The BS you have to endure with younger workers grows tiresome quickly, and can be extremely costly. I'll take quiet, slow, and steady over BS, flash-n-dash any day.
My dad is 72 years old, still works for me everyday, and works circles around the younger workers. Besides older workers, women make great employees.
Age discrimination, like all other discriminations, doesn't go away by itself. I am in the same boat - 37 years all phases experience, and I am doing apartment maintenance. Believe me, not by choice. I don't feel like working for 15 dollars an hour at this point.
A lot of people are taking advantage of the economy and driving wages back down to where they were when people started to form unions to protect themselves. Sorry there's no solution.
Since the social security system is essentially bankrupt, workers will have to go on into their 70's soon. Several folks here feel that workers after their 40's do not have a right to compete for jobs without age bias. How, please tell me, is that supposed to work?
The original poster is not destined for the soup kitchen line. He could work for himself if he so desired. I'm tired of the whining, complaining, and lawyers. Would somebody grow a backbone?
My cabinets are only worth what somebody is willing to pay for them. And I only get to build them for people who want me to. Why are the rules different for the original poster?
The days, for better or worse, when an employer could treat anyone however they cared to were reined in starting near the end of the 19th century.
Right now there are huge geographical areas in the USA and elsewhere that are economically dead or dying. Just look around and count the number of closed businesses, boarded-up houses and vacated industrial space.
Try asking the cabinetmakers and home builders in much of Florida, for example (if you can still reach them). How many of them are still in business and answering the phone? Ask your local city planning commission, "How many building permits were issued for the last three months?" I did. Their answer? "Zero!"
If you're busy, or at least working right now, you're lucky (and so am I) but there is a huge and growing amount of qualified folks (everywhere) who are positively on the skids. If things don't begin to turn around soon, we may all be wondering, "What's wrong here, am I a bit too old?" I already know I am.
To the original questioner: If you can figure out a way to approach businesses as a freelance support and get enough work to survive, that is your best bet. Just so few jobs available that it is easy to reject applications and you really would have a tough time fighting that in court. I finally got a really big order and we are going to make it, but it has been a scary ride. We just have to tough it out and figure a way to add value that others don't provide. Good luck and don't give up.
I think this age discrimination stuff is a moot point. It might be tough right now, but in the near future, if you want to hire someone, you are going to have to hire the older workers, as there is no one else worth considering.
Still, I switched to apartment maintenance this year as I have no desire to work for 15 dollars an hour. I sent my resume all over the place, including Greece, Italy, etc. Hardly a decent response. What a waste.
Once upon a time, people paid me a lot of money to provide them with complex, intricate finishes on almost every project we did. They would also pay large sums to have my designer spend hours and hours with them developing complex, creative designs unique only to them. They paid me huge sums of money, and I in turn paid my employees huge sums of money.
They no longer pay me huge sums of money for these things. So I no longer have a finisher in his late 50's and I no longer have a designer in his mid 50's. It has nothing to do with age discrimination. It's reality. Deal with it like the rest of us.
Obviously, slamming panels into and out of self guided machines or assembly clamps or trucks are jobs for the low skill and youthful. Intricate, long term builds of entire projects on a bench is the job for the experienced and confident.
Conversely, age does not automatically confirm skill and knowledge, just as youth does not automatically prevent skill and ability.
That is not a correct statement of the law. The issue is whether the first worker was fired in violation of the statute. The statute does not provide a free pass if you end up hiring an older person. The hiring of an older person might be allowed into evidence, or not, to the extent that the judge in some individual case believes that state of mind would be relevant to the facts at issue. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the subsequent hiring would not be relevant or admissible. Your exemption is a different issue.
I don't want anyone to think that I am trying to justify age discrimination. I am trying to point out that there are two sides to a coin. Also an attorney will probably tell you that it's tough to prove even if it is true. For many companies it's not an issue if benefits or retirement are not provided. If a company does not have to worry about retirement, then what does it hurt to have an older worker if he can still do his job well? One of the most profitable workers I ever had was in his late 50's when he started for me. The one who worked for me for a few months and screamed aged discrimination when he was fired was in his 40's and not nearly as profitable. Age had nothing to do with it.