I'm not avocating taking a paycut willingly or with your present employer but, if you lose a job in an economy such as this, does it make sense to sit home or take 15% less pay.
I graduated from college in 1984 and the economy wasn't so great and frankly, either were some of my grades in college. I got mu first job after about 3 months searching. Years later when I moved on to my second job (and a big raise), I asked my first employer why they had chosen me. The told me "because you were the lowest bidder". True story.
I agree with phillip10,especially with regard to the willingness to stay current and accept a salary cut. I know several engineers who won't accept a paycut in this economy, and more than half of them are out of work. No, it doesn't seem fair to take a cut when you're more experienced, but three-quarters of your old salary is better than no salary at all.
I think there are definitely ways to mitigate the "stigma" (or, more properly, negative exposure) of being over 40. Philipp10 (surely not a reference to his age) rightly points to projecting health and vigor as one route. However, the idea that one should expect to take a pay cut as a matter of course as one gets older is a bitter pill to swallow. Indeed, it's so far beyond the pale that employers lay off workers before offering pay cuts.
I'm curious, did anyone actually mention if younger, not-so-experienced engineers are getting the jobs that are available because they are willing to work for less money than a seasoned, more mature engineer? You see this is many industries; I wonder if it's crossing over into engineering.
Since when is 40 considered old. As I recall in the past, the age when this was claimed was more like 50-55.
I'm sure it occurs however, there are ways to fight it. One, keep your skills current. Two, stay in shape. Carrying around 50 extra pounds makes an employer see medical costs occurring. Three, accept the fact that, depending upon the economy, you may have to take a paycut. After all, you are competing with everyone else in the market and in some cases, its much cheaper and makes more sense to go with the young person at 60k than the seasoned engineer at 85k. Just because you used to make "X" dollars does not mean that you never have to take a step backward. In fact, I would argue, an engineer's peak earnings years should be between 35-50. After that, why would an employer pay as much when your on the downward slope in so many ways. Personally, I plan to work till about age 70, no matter what the pay is.
Employment of "older" or more seasoned employees is always an issue, regardless of what industry you're in. It's clear, however, that despite the poor jobs outlook of recent years, engineering posts have held on better than most segments.
I would think that the 40+ crowd (myself included) that keeps themselves current on the latest engineering technologies and work place advances, both technical and business process-wise, has just as good a shot--or perhaps better--as being seen as an asset given their wealth of domain expertise. Embracing some of the emerging engineering concepts around mechatronics and systems engineering also can't hurt cementing your place in the organization, especially if the younger crowd is getting versed in this discipline as part of their early education and training.
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