EVERY Thursday night, members of the Executive Association gather in a management dining room at Marconi Instruments in St Albans. All are out of work, their prime goal to get a job.
This is why they have turned to the self-help group. Founded 18 months ago, it now has about 150 members. They are keen to learn how best to market existing skills and acquire new ones: the group provides opportunities for networking and brainstorming, hammering out ideas, as well as helping to formulate survival strategies and staving off depression.
The white-collar recession has hit the city, north of London, hard. Three years ago, there was just a smattering of redundant executives; now 45 per cent of registered claimants are categorised as professionals and executives, one of the highest percentages in the region. In a tight labour market, age is a big hurdle. Norman Gerald, the spritely 60-year-old who chairs the association, said: "From the mid-30s upwards, someone will tell you that you're too old for the job."
For those who had stayed with the same company for decades, the culture shock of redundancy is especially acute. Some members from very big companies have left with statutory redundancy pay and no outplacement counselling. "The job for life has disappeared for many people. Firms are keen on short-term contracts. If you are not on the staff, they don't have to make you redundant," Mr Gerald said.
The association wants to help members who are eager to become entrepreneurs and is pressing the local training and enterprise council to make empty office space available for nursery businesses.
For Graham Radband, 42, whose last full-time job was as a senior business analyst, ageism has so far stymied hopes of a permanent job in information technology. "People are being declared brain dead at 35. It's such a waste of talent."
When Mr Radband lost his job in 1992, he fired off 450 letters on spec to prospective employers, plus 150 direct job applications. But all he got was six months' work in a software house through a friend. He is now eager to upgrade his skills. "A year in IT is like a decade in any other industry. Things move so fast. The danger is you can become trapped in a cycle. …