Chapter 4: A Futile Chore
Footnote: The Downshift Barrier
It appears to be a universally held belief that any qualified person who has, over the long term, failed to find any work within his own field can always and easily take a lesser job. For me at least, this has proved to be universally untrue.
My sister-in-law's husband is director of a fairly large commercial vehicle dealership. He has been director for about 25 years. Before that he served an apprenticeship in vehicle maintenance and became a mechanic. Some time after I became unemployed his own business was suffering slightly from the recession of the early nineties. While considering what he would do if his business were to fail he said with some confidence, "Well, I can always go back to tinkering with diesels".
As things turned out he had no need to worry. However, his reasoning was far from sound. If an equally long-serving director of a former competitor had come to him saying that his business had failed and could he have a job, how would he respond?
Suppose he has a vacancy as an engine fitter. Should he give it to this long-serving former director, or should he phone an agency who can provide him with one of the young fitters whom his former competitor had to dismiss when his business failed? What are the facts which he should consider?
Though he is probably fully conversant with all the technology of a modern engine, this former director has not actually tinkered with diesels for 25 years.
Having been in charge of running a fair sized business, he would find it hard if not impossible to suppress his frustration at being back on the shop floor taking orders from a supervisor who would formerly have been far beneath him.
The circles within which he has lived, moved and done business during the last 25 years will have made him culturally different from the other fitters on the shop floor. As a result, he may not get on well as part of the team.
Having to take a tremendous cut in pay he would be further disrupted and frustrated by the resulting forced change to his life-style. This frustration could well manifest itself in his work.
The young fitter on the other hand would be almost seamlessly continuing what he had been doing immediately before. He would be working with peers with whom he would fit in both technically and culturally. He would be satisfied and happy with his new job and with its normal rate of pay. Whom would you choose? I would choose the young fitter.
The above example is very tangible. My circumstances are rather less immediately visible. Though I ran my own business for 15 years, I was a working proprietor - an artisan. I was fully involved the whole time with the actual technology. I was both the 'director' and the 'fitter'. In fact I have never stopped. Throughout the 10 years of my so-called unemployment I have been working just as hard, in fact considerably harder. I am at this point fully conversant and practised in the very latest technologies. Yet when I apply for a job in the IT industry I am perceived as the old 'director' not the young 'fitter'. That is why I have been unable to get any job: not just jobs at my level and within my field.
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© May 1998 Robert John Morton