Advice from the 'overqualified'

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The Independent Online

Peter Cook is a chartered civil engineer by training who spent many years in the construction industry, running George Wimpey subsidiaries in Nigeria and Brazil, writes Patrick Tooher.

Today he works as a DIY adviser at B&Q, in Wandsworth, south London. "I left Wimpey in 1986 to work for Harrisons & Crosfield, a supplier to the building trade. The chairman was 72 and I think he preferred working with older people.

"I ran their Belgian and French operations, but in 1993 the company decided they didn't want to employ people over 55. I was persuaded to take early retirement, which is a bit of euphemism for being made redundant.

"I started applying for other jobs, things in the managerial sphere, but the agencies always came with the same answer that I was 'overqualified'. I probably was, but it was another way of saying I was too old.

"Last year I heard B&Q were looking for a DIY adviser. Coming from a construction background I felt I was suitably qualified."

Mr Cook is enjoying every minute of his new job. "This morning I helped a guy whose waste system to his sink had collapsed. I also advised someone who has just bought a cottage which only has a concrete floor. They wanted help on putting down a wooden one."

He says B&Q employs a relatively high proportion of older people. "About 12 per cent are over 50 compared to 21 per cent in the country as a whole. That's high by company standards. I remember asking Esther Rantzen what the figure was for the BBC. She was amazed to find it was 2.8 per cent and she was one of them."