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You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2002 i Theme: The demographic challenge - everyone is needed i Senior citizens must rely mainly on their own efforts
Senior citizens must rely mainly on their own efforts

Senior citizens must rely mainly on their own efforts

| Text: Anders Jakobsen Photo: P. H. Seifert

The efforts made to find employment for older people in Denmark are based on local networks run by the unemployed themselves, since they are the ones who need to achieve results. In addition, efforts are made to keep older workers employed.

Mary Bach, aged 63, has proved that it is quite possible to get a job even after 60. She has a long and satisfying career behind her and could retire on a pension if she wanted to, but she wants to go on working. Her last job lasted 10 months – until February this year – and she is still looking for a new one.

So in a way she is a perfect example of the Danish government’s policy, which is to encourage more older people to work, or, if they are still at work, to continue working. There is no surplus of labour in Denmark.

But it is an uphill struggle. The main reason why Mary Bach has managed to retain a foothold in the labour market despite her age is that she has put so much effort into it. In spite of all the rhetoric about the advantages of older and more experienced staff, the fact is that work is hard to come by after the age of 50. That little item of information in their CVs about their age is a major obstacle for the unemployed. No matter how much experience and expertise older people have, they soon realize that they have to work very hard if they are to succeed in returning to the labour market.

Senior networks

The philosophy behind the Danish ‘Senior Jobs’ networks is based on recognition of this fact. There are 24 such networks and they are all run by the senior citizens themselves. The government budget allocated DKK 6.8 million to senior citizens’ own job-seeking initiatives for 2003 and DKK 6.1 million for 2004. All networks with more than 25 members are eligible for annual operating grants of DKK 200,000, subject to the condition that they are non-profit-making. Members must be over 49. Mary BachMary Bach is a member of the executive committee of North Zealand Senior Jobs, which is based in Kvistgård. She receives no salary, but she takes a great interest in her work. Success consists in recruiting as many members as possible and getting rid of them as soon as possible, since that means that they have found a job. Between January and August this year, 14 of the 50 or so members of the North Zealand branch of Senior Jobs got a job, which is considered a good success rate. The national target is to get 800-1,000 senior citizens back to work by the end of the year.

The other member of the executive committee of the North Zealand branch is Bent Faurholm Christensen. He is 56 and can also look back on a successful career in the food industry, including directorships and many interesting assignments abroad. 

Visits to enterprises

Basically, what the North Zealand branch does is to gather information about enterprises, mainly about their size and economic performance, from the Industry and Commerce Information Bureau. The network only approaches successful enterprises.

– We know from experience that small and medium-sized enterprises have the most favourable attitude to older people, says Mary Bach:

– When we have found some suitable enterprises we send them each a letter. Later, we phone them in order to arrange a meeting. The results vary a great deal, and we only get a positive response from about 10 per cent of them. When we pay them a visit we give them information material about ourselves.

– We tell them about the variety of services that we can offer, including marketing, public relations, management etc. Typically, fast-growing small enterprises do not have any time for this side of their business, since they have their hands full just attending to their customers. We can offer to provide precisely the level of services that they require. This often means project assignments, which in time lead to more lasting jobs, says Mary Bach. 

Social aims

– Our branch also has social aims, says Bent Faurholm Christensen.

Bent Faurholm ChristensenSome of the members come here mostly to meet other people in the same situation, which is also important. For a person who has been a managing director for 25 years, losing their job is like falling into a black hole, and people like that need help to find their feet again. They must realize that losing your job is nothing to be ashamed of.

– It takes hard work to find a new job, and individuals must make active efforts themselves. We in the network can help them to make these efforts more successful, says Bent Faurholm Christensen.

Senior citizen employment programmes are organized slightly differently in different parts of Denmark. The regional employment services do not normally have special counsellors for senior citizens, who are divided into age groups like everyone else, i.e.  normally 50-55 and 56-60. But the employment services do use private consultancies that specialize in providing services for senior citizens.

Pilot projects for senior citizens

Several pilot projects for senior citizens were carried out in 1998-99. A number of private  consultancies were engaged for the purpose of designing an older persons policy aimed primarily at keeping older employees at work.

Jens Kristian Sommer, a senior citizen consultant at Raabo Kommunikation, says:

– All the relevant studies indicate that the best results are achieved if older people keep on working at their current workplace. Their usefulness is closely linked to the organization where they have worked for many years. They are looked up to as mentors. The moment they are released they lose all their status. This is why the pilot projects concentrated on keeping them in their old workplaces.

The projects were carried out in several private and public organizations, which were offered the services of senior citizen consultants for up to five hours, the cost of which was paid for by the National Labour Market Authority. These organizations included Brædstrup Hospital, Jutland, HTH-Køkkener A/S, the Danish Agricultural Suppliers Association and Skive West Health Care Centre. A report on the pilot projects is available on the Ministry of Labour’s website.

The object of the pilot projects was to adapt working conditions for older workers, for example shorter working hours and less demanding work based in some cases on contracts for older employees. The consultants’ input was financed by the Ministry for two years.

The current situation is that DKK 9 million has been allocated this year for initiatives for older persons. It is proposed to use these funds for support to unemployed persons in this group and for measures designed to ensure that those who have jobs can go on working. According to the National Labour Market Authority, all that needs to be done now is to give the go-ahead for the next round. The overall objective is to increase the number of older people in work.

Old but useful

We can be a useful sparring partner because we have members with many years’ valuable experience, says Mary Bach, member of the executive committee of North Zealand Senior Jobs. Here beside Bent Faurholm Christensen (picture above).


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