Facing ageism trying to get back to work: ask the expert

I work – or used to work – in arts education and development within the statutory sector. Since the recession and redundancy I have struggled to find a new post which I feel matches my skills and experience. Suddenly I seem to be ‘too experienced’ when I feel I am most able to take up the challenges of a new post. My family are more independent so I could commit more time to work and yet I can’t find a post. After interviews I find the job has been given to people with 10/15 years less experience than me. It’s very demotivating and frustrating. I’ve had good feedback after interviews and I don’t want to think it’s ageism, but now I’m thinking it probably is. What do I do now? There’s no retraining support in Scotland that I can find. Very few grants for setting up an arts-related small business. At the moment I am freelancing which is stressful, unpredictable and poor conditions of pay/pension etc. Any advice would be appreciated.

Sadly, you may well be the victim of age discrimination. Such cases are often difficult and expensive to take to tribunal so I’m not suggesting you try that route.

What’s equally a possibility is the marked downturn in this always very competitive sector since the 2008 “banking” recession and the subsequent “austerity” recession (2010 – late 2013).  Local Authorities and central government used to provide many of the jobs in arts education and development, whether directly or indirectly … severe government cutbacks in their funding mean these jobs have temporarily vanished in many areas.

Arts administration often involves putting together big and complicated events with partner organisations … have you tried applying for Event Organiser roles?  The events industry has seen significant growth in recent years.  Organisations employing Event Organisers include specialist event management consultancies; conference and exhibition centres; large commercial organisations; charities; hotels; public attractions; universities; local authorities; and public relations (PR) agencies.

Even though you know the sector well and may still have useful contacts within it, I’d suggest you do a lot of market research before even trying to set up an arts-related small business.  Creating a small business and nursing it towards being able to pay its creator a living wage is usually very difficult, even when the business will fill an essential need (eg child care or elder care).  It’s much more difficult when the business deals with “nice to have” but probably not absolutely essential services (eg arts education) where potential customers can see the costs involved in signing up but be less aware of the benefits they’ll receive.

If you feel running your own small business might be a good solution for you please try to  think laterally about your skills and interests to find a business idea which is more marketable and less competitive.  Run brainstorming groups with family and friends to come up with good ideas to follow up.  Pay special attention to any online-based business ideas they come up with (eg resourcing images / film clips for companies located in London).



Understanding the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population is vital if we want to create productive, innovative and inclusive multi-generational teams as we all lead longer working lives. workingwise.co.uk is a job and community site, from the people behind workingmums.co.uk, specially focused on older workers looking for flexibility and improved work-life balance, and the employers who recognise what they have to offer.

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