older worker blog
'Choose to be confident. Whatever you have done, by the time you are 50, you have done a quite bit, so capitalise it, use it as a positive thing...'
Beryl Jonsen, BEM for Services to Education, 85, Teacher from Colchester
Beryl Jonsen, recently honoured with a British Empire Medal for Services to Education in the 2021 Honours List, shares her thoughts with us on working later into life, the benefits of older workers, and on being positive.
What you do now and what do you love about it?
I am a supply teacher at a primary school. I have always wanted to teach since I was 7 years old when I would line up my soft toys. It’s my passion. What do I love about teaching? There is nothing like the feeling you get when you have explained something a hundred times over, and the child looks up at you with those big eyes and says ‘Miss, I’ve got it now!’ To know that I have got through and connected with that child and given him what he needs is such a buzz. It’s a feeling of great euphoria.
I haven’t always taught as I married a diplomatic and we lived abroad. Sometimes when I wasn’t able to teach, I helped in orphanages, at leper colonies, and when I was living in South America, with adoption for children.
My life and each of my various jobs have taught me a lot. The Covid pandemic has got in the way of my teaching in the last year. But I am hoping when live is back to normal, I can go back to teaching and help the children with catch-up work.
What do older workers bring to the table?
This is a wonderful point to make. Older people bring life experience. As an older worker, you are much more likely to have a measured point of view over things. They are serious about being in the work place and want to be there. Older workers take challenges more calmly and perhaps with some excitement, dare I say? Give me a challenge, I am up for it.
Older people tend to lead less complicated lives. Most have sorted their lives out and are on an even keel. They also bring a measure of wisdom. A lot of older people have had multiple jobs so they bring in skills from other disciplines. For example I have worked in many countries of the world. I taught English in a school in Afghanistan and lived and worked in South America. So I can speak authoritatively about geography as I have been there. At the end of the day, my class of Year 6, would always say, ‘Tell us about your life, Miss’. I could talk about being in Timbuktu or being in Afghanistan as I have been there, lived there and talked with the people.
I have found that older workers, if you want to call them that, tend to be team players as they have learned that lesson in their previous roles. For example in a school, you can’t be one person, you are a member of a team. If you have skills and courage, you can say ‘I can lead this team’. Other times, you are just part of the team. There is also a role that older workers play in a team of mentoring. I remember at the end of the year, an NQT teacher came up and thanked me for helping her by always being an example of a calm and loving teacher and because of that, making the newly qualified teacher feel stronger in her role.
What advice would you give to employers about hiring older workers?
Older workers face lots of prejudice. People who are recruiting are too aware of people’s ages, rather than being focused on what they can do. I don’t think about people’s age. People who are older should be positive about their age and think ‘this is what I can bring, because this is what I have done.’ If employers can think about having a multi-age group as their workforce, they can benefit hugely. Employers need to say, ‘This person may be x age, but look at their CV, look at their skills. There is a lot here that can benefit my firm.’
Employers should stretch their minds a bit and think, what are these people bringing to my organisation? Managers need to be aware of what more mature workers can bring to an organisation. Their maturity, experience, calmness, and experience of being team members. Older people are not a liability. They are enhancing the team and the business because of their life experience. A pool of talents is a wonderful thing.
On what you would say to your younger self and on reflection
Age doesn’t matter. It’s what you are that matters.
To my younger self – I would say, ‘just get on with it just like you did before.’ For sure I have made difficult choices throughout my life, but the choices I thought were negative turned out to be positive, as I have learned enormous lessons from them.
Advice to other older job seekers
I am a really positive person. I choose to be happy. There are difficult times and difficult days. It might be black now, but think of what Captain Tom said; ‘Tomorrow will be a good day’. If you have that attitude, you are halfway to doing what you want to do.
Of course, some people do have health concerns but even then there is often something, some role, some work you can do.
Don’t be apologetic about yourself, the colour of your hair, the size of your feet or your age. It’s just as ridiculous to say you can’t work for me because your hair is getting grey, or your shoe size is 4.5 or you are getting older.
My advice is to be positive. Say ‘This is me. This is what I bring to you. I bring my energy, enthusiasm and knowledge from various other jobs.’ Whatever you have done, by the time you are 50, you have done a quite bit, so capitalise it, use it as a positive thing.
Choose to be confident. You are a person, you have something to bring. You probably have a lot more to bring to a role than you realise. Dress up. Look smart. Get in there and sell yourself. Take time before the interview to list all your skills and what you can bring to the role. Maybe ask a friend or a colleague to help you as they spot things about you that you haven’t seen yourself. If you are apologetic about yourself, you invite failure. Be positive about yourself. If you are not positive about yourself, then no one else will be.