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Pandemic leaves middle-aged workers with uncertain future

By Dang Khoa   November 30, 2021 | 08:51 pm PT
Many middle-aged people have lost their jobs to the Covid-19 pandemic and are discovering employers only want young laborers.

Minh Phung, 44, of HCMC's District 3 has been spending mornings searching online for job opportunities after Covid-19 devastated the tourism industry and took away her job.

She used to make around VND30 million ($1,300) a month working as a restaurant manager.

But her 15 years of working experience has not been of any help to her in her search, and in fact has been a handicap.

"I've sent out my resume to more than 50 places, but I haven't heard back from any of them," she says.

She has also submitted applications in person at food establishments with ‘help wanted’ and ‘now hiring’ signs in front.

But all prospective employers want to hire someone below 35 years.

"The first question they ask me is either about my age or when I graduated college. Who wants to hire a woman in her 40s?" she sighs.

Phung's experience is not unusual. The surge in unemployment has impacted workers of all ages, but mid-career employees have been hit the hardest because of the unspoken ageism in recruitment.

Workers at Long Bien Market in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue

Workers at Long Bien Market in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue

The country’s unemployment rate rose to 3.72 percent in Q3, the highest since early 2020 when the novel coronavirus was first detected in the country. The nation had around 49.2 million aged 15 or more with jobs in Q3, down 1.9 million from Q2 and 2.1 million from the same time last year.

According to a study released by the New School, a private research university in New York, the U.S., older workers are facing higher unemployment rates than younger ones for the first time in half a century.

Nguyen Tran Thien Phu, a 53-year-old father of two, has been looking for a job since HCMC lifted its lockdown at the beginning of October.

The former jewelry salesman from District 4 says he has even applied to supermarkets but without luck.

"I am not after management positions or impressive titles; I just want to be able to pay my bills and support my family".

He says his income has dried up due to the pandemic.

During his job hunt, many people have told him he is "overqualified" for a role, but he suspects his qualifications have little to do with his inability to land a job and his age is the problem.

"At this rate I will keep getting older and poorer," he laments.

Truong Quynh Nhi, a consultant at an HR firm in District 12, says middle-aged s are experiencing unemployment since employers think older workers would not stay at a job for very long and hence not worth the investment.

"Employers now want to hire younger people who will stick with the company long laborers and not demand as many benefits as senior candidates.

"If middle-aged workers don't really excel or have special expertise they will struggle to secure work."

A recent survey by recruitment agency Navigos of 400 firms found 50 percent saying they would hire new employees post-lockdown but mostly aged under 35.

Amid the economic challenges posed by the pandemic, many employees are willing to take on any job, but many middle-aged workers struggle to compete with their younger counterparts since positions now require skills and qualifications they often lack.

Nguyen Thi Bich Phuong, a former cook, tried to make a career switch after many restaurants refused to hire her. She spent around VND10 million to learn sewing in the hope of becoming a seamstress, but factories do not want to hire a newcomer like her since they fear she still lacks technical skills and is a newbie.

The 38-year-old says: "Younger people have time to try things and fail. But it is harder and scarier for me as I am older and have no backup plan amid the belt tightening."

The need to work overtime and low wages are also hurdles for many middle-aged workers applying for new jobs.

Thu Thao, 37, says many companies want her to work extra hours, which is a challenge since she has a young child to take care of.

A mother takes her six-month-old daughter to the Hanoi Center for Employee Service in Cau Giay District to apply for unemployment benefits, June 2020. Data from the center shows that women account for 65 percent of people applying for unemployment benefits. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

A mother takes her six-month-old daughter to the Hanoi Center for Employee Service in Cau Giay District to apply for unemployment benefits, June 2020. Data from the center shows that women account for 65 percent of people applying for unemployment benefits. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Covid has taken a staggering toll on the livelihoods of older workers. Many have been forced to exit the social insurance safety net to get hold of their accumulated premiums, and now live on government financial support packages.

In just the first 10 months of this year more than 700,000 people registered to exit social insurance, 5.5 percent more than in the same period last year, the Vietnam Social Security said.

According to statistics from the Employment Service Center of the northern Hai Duong Province, the number of applications for unemployment benefits increased by 64 percent last year, with almost half of all applicants being middle-aged people.

The southern Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province paid unemployment benefits to 19,100 people last year, 22 percent of them being women aged over 35 who used to work in the garment, textile, seafood processing, and leather industries.

People who used to work in the informal sector grab whatever opportunities they get.

Hai Yen, 41, of Hanoi's Ba Dinh District, switched to selling banh bao (pork buns) with her husband after both lost their jobs as tour guides due to the outbreak. While they do not earn as much as they used to, it helps them stay afloat amid the continuing economic woes.

"We tried getting back into the workforce, but it has been a slow process," she says.

"Besides, we feel like we are too old to make a fresh start in a new company, and there will be endless challenges when trying to learn new skills.

"At the moment, selling banh bao is our lifeline." She says they earn around VND300,000 a day.

Phan Nguyen Hai Minh, who used to be a security guard at a restaurant in HCMC, is now a delivery driver and thinks this is best bet at this challenging time.

The 56-year-old says: "All I really want to do now is work, and so I grab any chance I get. Otherwise, I will starve".

In District 1, Phung continues to look for a job online, hoping to earn enough money to enjoy "a happy Lunar New Year with my family."

"Many companies said they are facing an ongoing labor shortage, but they only hire young candidates. I feel middle-aged and mid-career workers like me have been forgotten."

 
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