Working 50+ ---Getting Older Workers Back to Work through Community Partnerships
By Emily Allen
Mike, 58, is a Silicon Valley veteran. He’s spent more than 30 years there as a computer help desk specialist, working for companies like Hewlett-Packard and Boeing. In 2005, laid off from his employer, he decided to become a private contractor and for the next four years, life was good.
Then came the economic freefall of late 2008. On December 31, his client told him he could no longer afford his services, and Mike was out of a job. “Let’s just put it this way,” Mike says, “there was no reason to celebrate that New Year’s Eve.”
The recent recession hit people of all ages hard, but for many low-income older Americans, it’s harder to recover. After raising children, working, and planning for their retirement, they cannot make ends meet. As career professionals, we can't change what happened, but given the devastating effects of unemployment both emotionally and financially, we should be doing a better job in helping older people find work again. It is critical that we work together to identify what is working and how to scale those models that build community capacity to respond to the needs of older adults in the workforce.
Things didn’t get any better for Mike in 2009. “The economy got worse, and I spent a lot of time emailing resumes. For the first six months, I never got one response – it was if my resumes were going into a black hole somewhere. I knew it was going to get bad, but I had no idea that it would get this bad,” he says.
While surfing the Internet for job openings in 2010, Mike found AARP Foundation’s workforce programs that connects older job seekers with coaches who help them connect to local partners and employers. Mike was connected with volunteer coach Charles.
As an example, AARP Foundation has provided over $1.8 million to ten community-based organizations in 11 states including Washington DC, Minnesota, Ohio, North Carolina, Oregon, Florida, and Connecticut. These organizations are implementing unique models for providing a continuum of services to help older adults upgrade skills and obtain employment, and have access to benefits, work supports, and services that help protect themselves and their families from severe financial instability.
Charles and Mike began talking weekly and Charles provided tips, guidance and support. One of the first things Charles and Mike tackled was his resume. “Through Charles, I found the San Mateo Economic Development Department, and they helped me whittle my resume down to a single page, something I’d thought would be impossible. When I finished, what was left were keywords like ‘help desk’ and ‘desktop installing’ and ‘new users’ -- just enough description of what I’d done to make them curious,” says Mike.
In September 2010, two companies – an IT provider in Sunnyvale and the U.S. Postal Service in San Mateo –invited Mike to interview with them. These were the first interviews Mike had had since he was laid off. Three weeks later, he was offered both jobs and accepted the job with the U.S. Postal Service in San Mateo.. “I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t,” says Mike. “The pay is much better, it’s a 10-minute commute, I now have health benefits, which I didn’t have before, and I have a 401K. It’s like a dream come true,” he says.
“If it hadn’t been for AARP Foundation, Charles, and the connections to local resources, I’m sure I’d still be looking for a job,” says Mike. “All the suggestions and ideas definitely helped me land the job!
One organization that AARP Foundation is supporting is The WorkPlace, a nonprofit in Connecticut that helps long-term unemployed workers get back to work by subsidizing their jobs for the first eight weeks. With their “Platform to Employment” program (P2E), The WorkPlace focuses on those individuals whose unemployment has run out (usually after 99 weeks). The Foundation's funds are going to a special WorkPlace program for people 50+ and provides them with:
Career evaluation and skills tests
An eight-week training program
Counseling for the participants and their families
After the program, The Workplace steers the participants to job openings in organizations that have agreed to take part in the eight-week program, but it's up to participants to land the job. Since the program began, almost 80 percent of the clients participating have obtained employment!
For more information about The WorkPlace and AARP Foundation’s other grantees and workforce programs, go to www.aarpfoundation.org.
Emily Allen, Vice President Impact Programs, Income, is with AARP Foundation in the Washington, DC, area. She has worked for AARP since 1995 in various roles. She holds a master’s degree in human and organizational learning from George Washington University. Through its workforce programs, AARP Foundation supports adult and older workers as they remain in or re-enter the workforce by facilitating their navigation of the public and private workforce system, providing access to training that will allow them to remain competitive in the job market, and by providing connections to companies who value their experience. She can be reached at 202-434-6034 or firstname.lastname@example.org.