Unemployment rate in Switzerland: still too old to work at 50?

25th May 2018 was the day the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect. I’m not sure about you, but I have never received so many emails in my inbox on one day to review privacy policies or informing that I could unsubscribe from newsletters. In fact, the deadline came and went and I am still receiving notification of changes. Even though the GDPR is mainly applicable to Swiss based companies that are offering goods or services to EU data subjects, the time and effort invested by the Swiss to ensure compliance with this new law was incredible.

If we invest so much time and effort in complying with one European law change, why don’t we put similar energy into another urgent matter requiring a new law: employability of the over 50s in Switzerland?

Two years ago I wrote a blog entitled: “Unemployment rate in Switzerland: too old to work at 50” and the response amazed me. I had hit a nerve and I was and continue to be inundated with comments from people who identified with my comments or who were personally affected by the situation. This week, a documentary on Swiss television (SRF: ”Aussortiert und diskriminiert” ) reported on the same issue. It appears the situation continues to get worse, with no real hope in sight.

As a recruiter and career coach, I see first hand the devastating effect on careers, and indeed lives, that unemployment in the over 50s causes and it seems that there is no help at hand. As it is likely that the official retirement age will continue to rise, are we going to end up with people unemployed for twenty years or more? What can we do to fix the problem?

Recruiting in the UK recently, I was amazed at the difference. CVs did not have dates of birth on them, applicants only detailed the last ten years of their careers and it was impossible to discover their true age. Even face-to-face interviews didn’t offer more clarity. Of course, you can tell the difference between a 20-year old and a 40-year old, but if the person is “well maintained”, you have no idea if they have passed the dreaded 50-milestone until they are employed and have completed the onboarding documentation. And experience seemed to be valued in the UK, rather than seen as a sign to throw the application in the bin (metaphorically speaking, of course, as I believe that privacy policies state that we have to put it through the shredder)!

So, why is it so different in Switzerland? What can we do to bring our hiring practices in line with other countries? Nowadays some applicants don’t put their age on their CV, often to their detriment, as employers tend to presume that the candidate may be older than he/she wants you to believe. Even if you go through the interview stage without knowing the age, when you see the employment certificates from past employers, the age is clearly stated in the opening paragraph. In fact, the specimen employment certificate from the “Centre Patronal” clearly indicates the need to put the date of birth on the certificate.

If we want to support the over 50s and make use of their invaluable professional experience, let’s follow the lead of many countries and make it illegal to put the age on the CV, employment certificates and educational diplomas. And for all those school and employment certificates established over the last forty years, we should make it obligatory for candidates to “tippex” out the date of birth, or at least do the digital equivalent of this.

From a candidate’s point of view, make sure you fulfil your side of the bargain. In addition to keeping your skills up-to-date, be aware that appearance matters. I am definitely not calling for everyone to undergo cosmetic surgery to look younger but you should understand how personal grooming impacts your appearance and your employability. Think about what you can do now to ensure that you look fit and healthy at your next interview.

Of course, I am aware that the solution to this massive problem is far more complex than hiding your date of birth and getting fit. Other steps will involve educating decision-makers on the benefits of hiring the over 50s, and perhaps, more controversially, taking a fresh look at how certain benefits impact the hiring decision. Is the cost of hiring people of a certain age prohibitive to many companies? Will the over 50s have to forfeit their entitlement to the additional week’s vacation customary in some industries, or perhaps pension companies will have to review the structure of the contributions which make employing older people more expensive? All this will take a lot of time and debate. Progress will be slow.

So, let’s start with something simple. Make it illegal for the date of birth to appear on Swiss CVs, employment certificates and educational diplomas. If we are capable of putting all our efforts into complying with the European GDPR, we can definitely do something positive today for the employment market in Switzerland.


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