Executives face harsh reality of unemployment

Bankers in Geneva are increasingly forced to turn to the job pages

Switzerland's unemployment rate has risen to its highest level since May 1998, up to 3.8 per cent.

This content was published on February 10, 2003 - 08:09

Figures released on Monday by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs showed there were 138,944 people out of work in January - an increase of more than 9,000 on December.

With the jobless rate continuing to climb, Swiss employment agencies are facing a new dilemma: how to deal with scores of highly qualified professionals who have lost their jobs in the finance sector.

In Geneva, the number of out-of-work bankers has risen by more than 75 per cent over the past year.

The worldwide economic downturn has forced many financial institutions in Switzerland to downsize their activities and lay off employees.

The result has been that former asset managers, stock market traders and private banking executives are increasingly finding themselves among the ranks of the unemployed.

"It's a phenomenon that is affecting financial centres all over the world, including Zurich, Frankfurt, London and New York," explained Neil Ankers, the director of canton Geneva's employment office.

According to Ankers, the main difficulty in helping this new breed of job seekers is that they tend to be overqualified for traditional placement and training schemes.

"It's a major problem," he told swissinfo, "because the classical instruments of reinsertion into the workplace are not designed for these job seekers."

"We need to give them more information and build up networks so that they can be more autonomous in making themselves employable."

Job security

Ankers also believes many managers and executives in Switzerland have been lulled into a false sense of job security by a work ethic that rewards loyalty.

"These people never thought it could happen to them," he said, "because fidelity to one's company is a big part of the working culture in Switzerland, especially in the private banking sector."

The problem is particularly acute within Geneva's private banking industry, which has been hit hard by the effects of mergers and restructuring, as the result of low revenues and market turbulence.

Ankers predicts the trend will continue and that the number of job seekers from a financial background will reach an all-time high of more than 1,000 by April.

His prediction is supported by the latest unemployment data for Geneva, which shows a 76.4 per cent increase in the number of jobless coming from the banking sector in the 12 months since December 2001.

In December 2002, 880 out of the canton's 12,814 unemployed came from the world of finance - around seven per cent of the total.

Growing phenomenon

In order to better deal with this growing phenomenon, canton Geneva has created a working group made up of employment officers and human resources representatives, who are banking specialists.

The group is working with outplacement services at banks to come up with a strategy to help overqualified job seekers change direction and pursue other careers.

Mary-France Goy of the Swiss Bank Employees Association says the only option for many of these job seekers is to find positions in different fields, which often means less money and prestige.

"It's very hard for them because most of them were driven by their careers as well as high-paying salaries," she told swissinfo,

"Now many are losing their cars and homes and it becomes a tragic situation for their families, so it's very difficult for us to help them."

Job losses

However, Ankers insists that employees, regardless of their stature, must be better prepared for the possibility of unemployment.

"We need to improve the self-responsibility of managers towards their own employability," he said.

"The job market shouldn't be of interest to them only when they're out of a job... but also when things are stable."

Ultimately, Ankers believes the situation will improve and that financial institutions will actually benefit from streamlining their activities. However, he warns that it could take some time.

"We have to be realistic," he said. "What we are facing is not a short-term problem and it will require more than one or two years to fix."

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

The jobless rate rose from 3.6 per cent in December to 3.8 per cent in January.
Employment agencies are seeing an increase in overqualified job seekers, particularly from the finance and banking industries.
The number of unemployed financial executives and managers in Geneva is predicted to top the 1,000 mark by April 2003 - around seven per cent of the total jobless figure.
The latest unemployment data for the canton shows a 76.4 per cent increase in the number of jobless coming from the banking sector in the 12 months since December 2001.

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