Helping Older Workers Find the Work they Want

OK, this baby boomer officially feels old now. I was just informed by Paul Magnus — vice president of workforce development for Akron, 474168522 -- older workerOhio-based Mature Services — that “mature” actually refers to 40 and older.

I was asking him to elaborate on his organization’s 26th Annual Mature Workers’ Job & Career Fair, coming up on Tuesday, April 12, at the Akron Fairlawn Hilton, designed “to help the 40-and-older population find employment,” as its release states.

Shocked as I was by that clause, Magnus pointed out that the oldest of the “Gen Xers [those born from the early 1960s to the early 1980s] started turning 52 in February 2016.” (Stop the world, I want to get off!)

But whether they’re 40 or 52 or on up into baby-boomer territory, he says, “we advocate for all older workers” and the extensive experience, skills and work ethic they bring to the workplace.

If you consider baby boomers alone, he adds, they possess the “highest level of intelligence and institutional knowledge, highest motivation factor and highest skill set of any demographic that has come through the workforce to date.”

Though many are staying in the full-time workforce out of necessity, a growing share are just heading into retirement age and are trying to “reinvent their lives,” be it through a mentor or tutor role or a part-time consultant’s role, says Magnus, whose agency helps those people achieve their desired situations as well.

In all work situations, says Don Zirkle, Mature Services’ training and placement supervisor, “[o]lder workers bring to the job commitment, experience and the ability to work as part of a team.” Older workers, he adds, have “adapted to technology as well.”

“These are traits that all employers are looking for in a new hire,” Zirkle says.

Unfortunately, far too many employers are still disregarding senior job candidates, especially those who have been long-term unemployed — a problem we’ve certainly written about on this site and on HREOnline.com.

“Many older workers have gotten trapped in that long-term-unemployment racket,” Magnus says. “We’re seeing that individuals who are not working aren’t getting the calls back. The longer they’re unemployed, the longer they’ll remain unemployed.”

Also on the unfortunate side, many baby boomers, when they started working, “didn’t necessarily need a degree for all the positions that were open to them,” he says. “Now, students are coming out of college with certificates and degrees for those same jobs,” and older workers trying to compete find themselves way behind the eight ball.

Through numerous programs run by his organization, including the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Senior Community Service Employment Program, which most other states also run, seniors are getting pointers and guidance in educational opportunities, job-hunting and skills training, and even tips on best ways to use social media, which many — surprisingly — aren’t that well-versed in, he says.

Times have changed, he adds, and seniors need to change with them.

I asked Magnus to describe the challenges and changes he’s seen in his 31 years with Mature Services.

The biggest difference he’s noticed over time, he said, is that everyone now has a different idea about what retirement means, from semi-corporate retirement to at-home part-time consultancies, and his agency is there to adjust to the changes, and guide and advocate for all older workers in his corner of the world — i.e., the Akron and surrounding areas.

“I remember starting this job when I was 28 years old,” Magnus says. “I remember walking up to a senior group of men and asking them if they would be interested in the recruiting help my agency had to offer, and they just laughed at me and said, ‘Why would I want to work when I’m retired?’ ” So at least that’s changed.

Second to that, he says, is that a growing number of employers are starting to see the value older workers, in any capacity, can bring to the workforce.

Though many still “do get bogged down in the older-worker perceptions that aren’t based on reality [like they can’t perform or produce like they once could, or they simply don’t want to be there], many others aren’t getting that hung up on age anymore.”

So there’s some progress at least.