I got a great question this week from a 57 old robotics engineer and you can read my answer below. However, let’s all help out this one.
IF YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH THE QUESTION PLEASE SHARE YOUR COMMENTS!!!
I’m a 57 year old robotics engineer in the California and am starting to worry about being able to stay employed until I can retire. Currently only have about $240,000 in retirement account, so it’s pretty sure I’ll be working for a few more years (or more). My concern is the tendency of some employers to hack away at the older employees and replace them with cheaper, younger people. I’m very good at what I do, but is that enough?
The sad truth is you are right. Margins are so tight for companies and the pressure to run leaner and leaner organizations will keep companies constantly looking for opportunities s to cut cost. Keeping payroll down is common practice and one easy way to do that is to replace older, more expensive talent with younger, cheaper talent.
What can you do?
1. Take the lay of the land
Assess how important your specific skillset is to the success of the company and how many other people possess the knowledge you possess. If the company has very few robotic engineers and it is difficult to find qualified people for the role then I like your chances of keeping yourself employed into your 60’s. If robotic engineers are falling out of trees and it’s relatively easy to train one to do your job then pay close attention to the following steps below. Also, how unique is our skillset? I did some recruiting for software companies for a couple of years and there are certain technical skills that are so hard to find and in such high demand you could have murdered people on the job and still not have been fired. Does your technical skillset fall into that category? If so, sit back, relax and demand a raise!
2. Increase your value
Disclaimer: The following suggestions could also hasten your departure so you must use your knowledge of the company to predict whether these would enhance your market value and job security or hasten your departure since you are sharing exclusive knowledge.
Are there other ways you can increase your value on the job? Can you become a knowledge resource for others? Take on a long term project that will have great impact for the company? Examples:
- Teach a class
- Mentor program
- Create a centralized knowledge base
- Write a user’s manual for your position
- Enroll in professional training outside of work hours.
- Leadership/Management classes
- Project management
3. Cross Train
This one is self-explanatory
4. Increase your popularity
It never hurts to be nice. If you have a reputation for being a difficult or surly employee this certainly makes it easier to dump your salary; likewise if you are demanding or a nonconformist. Are you still wearing jeans even after the company has decided to switch to more professional attire? Do you blow off the weekly staff meeting because it’s a waste of time? Do you ignore emails and are slow to respond to stupid requests? All ammunition that can help the company decide it’s time for you to go.
5. Brush up the resume
This may be the most impactful thing you can do. Get your resume current and stay active with your network of peers and associates. Is there an organization you can join that gets you out and meeting other people like the AAES (American Association of Engineers Society)? I have counseled people in their late 50’s after they have lost their job and trust me on this one, you do not want to be job searching while unemployed at 57. You need to stay plugged into the market place so you are aware of what’s available out there for robotic engineers. Maybe there’s a startup that needs a senior guy.
This is probably the single biggest mistake professionals make and perfectly understandable. They get complacent. Staying plugged into your professional network will keep you abreast of current market conditions and allow you to build relationships that could lead to another job quickly in the event you get fired. It can also give you peace of mind since you will feel more in control of your destiny.
This is hard to sustain when you are currently employed (low motivation) so maybe you can use the buddy system and find a peer that will accompany you to events and associations where you can network and work your magic.
6. Keep your eye on your boss.
Perhaps the most obvious answer is to keep a close eye on your boss. Keeping the boss happy is a no brainer but also keep a close eye on what he/she is doing. Is your boss ambitious? If your boss is ambitious then I would want to make sure my boss sees me as a key cog in their ability to achieve their goals. Has my boss been here a long time or a short time? When will they retire? Are they an engineer or an administrator? Most importantly do you have the kind of relationship with your boss where they will share candid information with you? You need someone that can give you insight into what the senior leadership of the company is thinking and your boss is the most obvious conduit so try and foster that dialogue.
I hope this helps but my guess is you already knew all this. However, with humans I find we usually know the answer but getting ourselves to follow through is where we often get stuck. Take my advice, truly embrace the concept of being a cost cutting liability and use that motivation (fear) to take some action on any or all of the above strategies. Doing any or all of the above will help ease anxiety and set you up for success or what we like to say in the business, “It’s a win-win.”