Older workers get help in their uphill battle to find jobs
Alan Gale thought he would have been retired by now - or at least close to it.
But instead, the Chelmsford 64-year-old electronics buyer has spent the last year crafting and updating his résumé, following leads, applying for dozens of jobs, and sitting down for more than 50 interviews.
Laid off twice since 2002, he has done contract, temp, and consulting work in the interim. So, simply put, he can’t afford to retire.
“I have to think positive and just keep working at it,’’ said Gale, who has been out of work for more than a year. He hoped to boost his chances recently by taking part in a workshop in Billerica for job-seekers age 55 and older. “I’m not giving up.’’
Such is the mantra of the long-term unemployed, the largest percentage of which, according to statistics, is over age 55. And while job-seeking workshops and networking and support groups have popped up like mushrooms as the economy has teeter-tottered, more are being geared toward job-hunters who, in a healthy economy, would normally be at their peak as they enter their golden years.
One of the largest of these programs is Wisdom Works, which is regularly put on by area councils on aging, including Billerica, Salisbury, and Marblehead, where it was first developed.
Taught by local human resource specialists, the program is typically held in two-hour sessions over four weeks, and delves into the finer points of résumés; virtual and face-to-face networking; and the process of applying for a job electronically, which can sometimes mystify older job-seekers.
There is also self-assessment: Participants identify their skills and goals and take part in various scenarios (and there’s homework, too).
By the end, participants have to develop an action plan of where they will apply, and how, where, and with whom they will network.
“You’ve got to learn to become a salesperson for yourself,’’ said Gale, who did the workshop in May.
First developed in Marblehead with the Boston career management company Keystone Associates, Wisdom Works has been adopted by several local senior centers, according to Pat Roberts, director of Marblehead’s Council on Aging. The state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs is now looking at implementing it statewide, she noted.
Meanwhile, other programs geared toward older workers on the job hunt can be found at local career centers such as the Career Place in Woburn, which hosts the free workshop “Age is an Advantage.’’
Which, some say, it is.
Older workers have loyalty, longevity, maturity, flexibility, “just tremendous experience, . . . [and] they don’t shirk from responsibilities and hard work,’’ said Donna Popkin, director of the Billerica Council on Aging, which has been offering sold-out Wisdom Works sessions for about 18 months.
Still, she and others described an underlying age discrimination.
“Sometimes people think they aren’t energetic enough, or not flexible enough,’’ said Roberts. However, she described workers in their 50s and 60s as “having a strong work ethic. They get the job done, they don’t waste time, they’re very reliable. They have a knowledge base that can be tapped. The biases are typical of our society. We don’t value the knowledge of older people in general.’’
Popkin agreed that older workers are often the last hired.
Statistics appear to back up that assertion: While unemployment for those 55-plus is ultimately lower than that of their juniors, when older workers lose a job they tend to stay unemployed for longer periods, prompting some to call them the “new unemployables.’’
Based on research from the AARP Public Policy Institute culled from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, as of January, unemployed job-seekers 55 and older were out of work for roughly 44 weeks on average, while younger workers found employment in about 34 weeks.
The unemployment rate for those 55-plus has been hovering around 7 percent for the past two years, according to the bureau.
“There’s a lot of value in the older workers. They just need to know how to sell themselves,’’ said Lynda Mitskewicz, who is in talent acquisition with Corsica Partners.
That was the overarching lesson at a recent two-hour morning workshop at the Hilton Senior Center in Salisbury.
“You’re the experts,’’ Chuck Masaitis of ValleyWorks Career Center told a group of 11 seated at tables and jotting in notebooks. “Nobody knows you more than you do.’’
Come up with a 30-second introduction to recite when you network, he advised; prepare for interviews by researching the company; dress well, be polite and smile; and no matter where you go, always bring copies of your résumé.
Later, when the group paired up to do two-minute mock interviews, the room buzzed with positive affirmations.
“I have a lot of energy.’’
“I’m a hard, hard worker.’’
“I’m loyal, punctual, dependable.’’
The group was a mix of different backgrounds, skills, and abilities: some were in T-shirts and jeans, others in business suits. Some were reserved and quiet, others upbeat and talkative. Both frustration and hope lingered in the air.
There was a real estate agent looking for something completely different, a teacher, and a day-care provider. A few were entrepreneurs and merchants; some had backgrounds in manufacturing and data entry; a couple were retirees.
A few were looking for something more complex than their current or most recent jobs, others for something simpler and more straightforward. Some wanted jobs in a different field; others just wanted anything that pays.
Septuagenarian Terri Donovan is looking for something simple. She wants to go in, do her job, and leave - without all the stress she has had in past positions.
But why does the 71-year-old from Amesbury need to find a job in the first place?
“To help me pay for my property taxes,’’ said Donovan, a bookkeeper by trade who now does offsite filing for Anna Jaques Hospital.
Her Social Security income just isn’t enough, she said.
The biggest challenge? “Age,’’ she said matter-of-factly as she sipped coffee in the senior center cafeteria, which was humming with the lunchtime crowd.
Hers was a frustration shared by Gale, who will be 65 in December.
He was laid off for the first time in 2002, then again - and inexplicably, he said - from another firm in August of last year. “I thought I’d be able to retire from that company,’’ he said.
Now, he’s looking for a buying or accounting job, but he’s also considered selling cars. If he doesn’t find something by the end of year, he noted, he may take early retirement.
“I really don’t want to do that,’’ he said. “I am frustrated, but I’ve learned to live with it, and just hope for the best.’’
Sixty-one-year-old Valarie Enos is of a similar mindset.
She has a background in manufacturing, but wants to shift into community service, and recently took part in the Salisbury Wisdom Works program to help with that transition.
Most of all? She’s learned to have patience, she said. “I’m a firm believer in sooner or later, something will happen.’’