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The New Workforce: Older, Wiser, and Specially Trained

Claurance Johnson, Joseph Dirac, Sophia Noyer and George Dorsett
Claurance Johnson, Joseph Dirac, Sophia Noyer and George Dorsett
July 29, 2010

Ah, the golden years. “I retired in 2005,” says George Dorsett, who enjoyed a long career as an Employment Specialist. “I’d taken two years off and thought I’d be on a beach somewhere the rest of my life.”

What happened next, though, abruptly ended his endless summer.

“I had all my ducks in a row,” Dorsett explains. “I had my 401K and was invested in the market. Then one day I woke up and all that was gone, except for my social security.”

As with millions of others, Dorsett’s life savings and retirement funds were decimated in the current economic recession, when many of the world’s stock markets crashed--and took investors with them.

Perhaps unlike others, though, he knew exactly what to do.

Referred to the job services at AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, Dorsett showed up ready to apply his skills or learn new ones--whatever it would take, to gain employment and get his finances back on track.

"They asked, ‘When can you start?’," he remembers. "And I said, ‘Yesterday’.”

Starting here--and starting over

Dorsett is now Employment Specialist and Operational Manager for Job Development at AARP, and reaches out to others like himself; experienced workers who find themselves faced with a job search, after many years in a career they thought would be their last.

That means re-thinking goals, and re-training for new skills--and BMCC assists people with both, in a new program funded by AARP Foundation’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). Participants also receive training vouchers, and job placement services.

Sunil Gupta, Dean of BMCC’s Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development sees the program expanding, as certain workforce trends continue.

“Now that the number of younger workers is declining,” he says, “and older workers comprise a large percentage of those who’ve lost their jobs, it’s important that we address the training needs of older individuals--many of whom bring a positive work ethic and strong customer service skills some would say are generational, to the workplace.”

He notes that once technical training is added to that base of soft skills, older workers are more than able to compete in industries “that actually have jobs needing to be filled, and viable career tracks.”

Staying connected to the world of work

“We run a work search assessment at BMCC on a weekly basis,” says Joseph Dirac, AARP Foundation WorkSearch Project Director.

“We also offer a workshop series on career issues. Then there are Training Assistance Funds available for participants to use toward BMCC continuing education courses, after they assess their skills, interests and characteristics online, with a free, self-paced training that focuses on 17 essential workplace skills.”

Dean Gupta adds, "At least 200 people have come to an AARP Worksearch Assessment here at 25 Broadway, and at least 20 people have received scholarships for our programs totaling nearly $40,000 so far."

AARP has also placed two participants in subsidized jobs at BMCC, working in the Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development as they continue their job search and re-training activities.

“We do everything,” says Claurance Johnson, a former elementary through high school teacher, who also lectured at the college level in his home country, the Bahamas. “We provide customer service, answer phones, direct students who may have questions, advise them on classes to take, and even help them with printing and copying.”

“I feel really lucky doing what I’m doing,” says his co-participant Sophia Noyer, whose work experience is in Internet marketing.

“I have never been in a situation like this,” she says, “working in a college, being around students. It’s a great program. Plus it’s nice to hear ‘Good morning’; it’s nice to hear ‘Thank you’. Being out in the job world, you’re part of the evolution of what’s going on.”

Minding the gap

That “evolution,” of course, involves computer skills, and BMCC’s continuing ed department offers labs in digital editing programs, Microsoft packages, and other areas.

“A lot has changed in the workplace,” says Dirac. “Even the job search has changed. And as you’re older, the time out of work increases. What you don’t want is a gap of 36 months--at least this kind of temporary work situation keeps you current in your skill sets, and you can even learn new ones.”

Noyer plans to apply her AARP tuition voucher toward BMCC’s accounting certificate courses. Johnson was accepted into St. John’s University, the childhood education masters program, but finances are an issue; meanwhile, he’ll continue to build his employability, having earned security and fire guard certificates.

“What we want to see is specialized training for a meaningful credential in a short period of time,” says Dirac, “but even soft skills are essential.”

In the Lunch-Time Career Planning Workshops at BMCC, older--and other-- displaced workers focus on transferable skills, and topics such as, “Developing Plan B: Your Career in a Downturn,” and “How to Change Fields When Jobs Are Tight.”

Matching strengths with growing fields

AARP/SCSEP programs throughout the City have served almost 900 individuals, with over a dozen of those having completed and been placed in employment through BMCC, where participant strengths--identified in the assessment piece--are carefully matched with training related to growing industries such as health care and information technology.

These highly interactive, data-related employment areas bode well in light of a recent Urban Institute report noting that future jobs “will require less physical demands and more cognitive and interpersonal skills, trends that favor educated older workers.”

In fact, some would say ignoring the needs of older workers would be to do the economy, in general, a disservice. “I look at the demographics,” says Dirac, “and there’s not a pool of young workers any more. We need to recruit and retrain older workers.”

Workforce development trends indicate he’s not alone in that opinion, and popular expressions such as ‘fifty is the new 40’, indicate a shift in public opinion.

Staying positive

But mature job seekers still do face challenges. According to many studies, employers often say they value older workers’ experience, maturity, and strong work ethic, but some express concern about their higher salaries and benefit costs, combined with the view that some have declining abilities or out-of-date skills.

Those concerns complicate job search efforts for mature workers, despite the landmark Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990, which addresses age-based denial of employee health benefits.

There’s also confusion over the term “older,” itself.

Under provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, old age begins at 40, whereas anyone 60 and above qualifies as “old” under the Older Americans Act. Certainly, so-called Baby Boomers--those born after World War II, 1945 to 1955--qualify when it comes to training programs and services ear-marked for older workers, and employment studies generally regard 55 as the age at which employment problems become discernible.

On the positive side, perplexity about the number of years denoting old age reflects society’s changing attitudes on the subject. And increased longevity, advances in health care, and economic necessity have made retirement at 65--for better or worse--a largely nostalgic notion.

Sophia Noyer, who holds a subsidized position at BMCC through AARP while she continues her job search, stays flexible in the face of these issues.

“Age can hinder job prospects,” she says. “But I keep an open mind.”

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  • BMCC and the AARP Foundation provide free assessment and training for older job seekers
  • Participants take continuing ed classes, using AARP vouchers
  • They benefit from employment trends, and changing societal beliefs about aging workers

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