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Employers learning gray matters: Boomers recruited to fill mounting job gaps

Longtime registered nurse Ray Williams takes care of Judith Loudon at Scottsdale Healthcare. Williams, 60, got the job three months ago and works the standard three 12-hour shifts a week. Health care is a field friendly to older workers.

Longtime registered nurse Ray Williams takes care of Judith Loudon at Scottsdale Healthcare. Williams, 60, got the job three months ago and works the standard three 12-hour shifts a week. Health care is a field friendly to older workers.

More employers now realize they need to recruit and retrain older workers – especially Baby Boomers. But many aren’t sure how to go about that.

And at the same time, mature applicants are seeking jobs in drastically changed workplaces that have gone global and digital on them, while often worrying that every rejection is due to their gray hair.

The job market is facing unprecedented tensions as millions of older workers decide they want to postpone retirement and keep working, perhaps at a slower pace, while many employers are seeking sharp, technologically skilled employees who can help them innovate and compete at a fast pace.

Fortunately for older workers, the subject has been getting a lot of attention. Plus, some industries are growing so fast that they almost certainly will need to consider or rely on experienced workers for part of their labor pool. They include health care, education, hospitality, energy and utilities and information technology.

Companies are looking at options such as flexible scheduling, paying for training and phased retirements, to keep or lure experienced workers. About 70 companies have sought certification as being “mature-worker friendly” under the Arizona Mature Worker Initiative, a new state program.

And job applicants are brushing up on their computer skills, learning how to file resumes online and using social networks and online job boards through groups like Boomerz, the Scottsdale Job Network and the Center for Workforce Transition at Gateway Community College.

It can be intimidating for some older workers seeking jobs.

Jeffrey Matz, 66, an attorney looking for work, said that when he goes on interviews, “I am faced usually with a 30-something who can’t relate to me at all. They come from a different generation. They have different ideas about work ethics. They have different ideas about lifestyles. They see me as sort of an alien.”

Although older workers may feel they are being put out to pasture or soon will be, statistics show that they hold on to their jobs well, even during this economic slowdown.

Employment among those 55 and older grew by 3.7 percent, or about a million, from July 2007 to July 2008, while the number of 20- to 44-year-olds working fell by 1.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a Chicago employment company, said this is not just because the population is aging but these older workers are apparently needed.

“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “The Boomer generation is the most healthy generation yet to reach that age (bracket).”

Most of the older-worker job gains were in management, professional and related occupations, indicating that companies may be relying more on seasoned veterans to get them through the struggling economy, Challenger said.

He and other employment experts said skills that mature workers can offer include problem solving, quality control, customer service and customer relations, research, process improvement and, especially, dealing with disasters.

Receptiveness of health care

Health care is at the top of the list of fields receptive to older workers, because of a “huge shortage” of health-care personnel, said Judie Goe, director of recruitment and compensation for Scottsdale Healthcare.

“While we do have a good influx, a good pipeline of younger, newly trained people getting in the workforce, it’s still not meeting the demand for health-care workers, particularly in the clinical area,” she said.

Scottsdale Healthcare, which operates three hospitals in Scottsdale, offers options such as flexible scheduling, job sharing and working from home when appropriate to keep and recruit older workers. It was the only Arizona company honored by AARP last year with a Best Employers award for being age friendly.

Ray Williams, 60, who has been a nurse since 1976, joined the company as a nurse three months ago and still works the standard three 12-hour shifts a week. Scottsdale Healthcare is offering more nurses the option of working two 12-hour shifts or less.

“Yes, it’s physically hard, but it’s about pacing yourself and using time management,” he said.

Williams advised a friend, who was laid off from a mid-management position and had run out of unemployment benefits, to go into health care. The friend, 55, now works as an ultrasound technician.

Another field receptive to older workers is information technology, even though industry insiders say it’s often viewed as the domain of younger workers.

“As you get into large systems, you need people to manage them, and mature workers are much better at that. They had a lot more experience,” said Bill Austin, 52, a former Motorola engineer.

“I have been involved in the Internet and Web since the beginning. I was the Web master at Motorola the first five years there was such a thing.”

Patrick Hanley, 66, is in charge of franchise sales operations at DataPreserve, a Scottsdale company that backs up computer files. He said, “I think to classify generally that Boomers don’t understand technology is a misnomer, a misstatement because we’re the ones who brought the computers to age today that the younger people are using.”

Jim Morand,the nearly 71-year-old founder and chairman of Data Preserve, encourages older people to consider technology fields.

“We have a real need for good people. And anybody that’s willing to learn the basic technology and comes prepared can find a job in this business,” he said. “But it goes back to are you willing to retrain yourself to do it?”

He was 65 when he went to New Horizons Computer Learning Center to learn about computers and technology so he could start his company.

ris Jensen of Wisdom Workers Solutions, a Des Moines, Iowa-based non-profit online group aiming to help employers and applicants deal with aging and work issues, said other fields friendly to mature workers include utilities, hospitality, education, and government.

“Jobs that have a customer-service element oftentimes are more friendly to that older worker because they (workers) are very dependable, and they are very good in public service,” she said. “Consultants in project work is another place where these people are fitting in. They are great at research, problem solving, process improvement and quality control.”

Utilities are focused on retaining experienced workers, she said, because they have been through crises before.

“They (older workers) have more knowledge of utilities and how to deal with catastrophic events,” Jensen said. “And until they (utilities) can get that knowledge transferred to younger workers, they really don’t want to lose that incredible knowledge in the process.”

The push to think gray

By 2012, nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. workforce will be 55 or older, up from just under 13 percent in 2001, according to the Monthly Labor Review.

Surveys have said that many Baby Boomers, who began turning 62 this year and applying for Social Security, want to keep working toward traditional retirement ages. Nevertheless, companies are concerned about their eventual departure.

A 2007 survey by Robert Half International of 150 senior executives with large companies found that 47 percent said Baby Boomer retirements will have the greatest impact on the workforce over the next decade.

Efforts have begun locally and nationally to educate companies in Arizona about how to change their employment and recruitment practices to lure and keep older workers.

The Arizona Mature Worker Initiative, started in 2005 by Gov. Janet Napolitano, received about 70 applications from companies that want to become certified as mature-worker friendly. This is the first year the certification is being offered.

Representatives from the companies will be trained in October and November.

Melanie Starns, the governor’s policy adviser on aging, said the 70 companies represent all fields and large and small business and everything from construction to health care to RV campground hospitality.

Boomerz, a non-profit group trying to help Baby Boomers find jobs among other things, also works to educate companies about how to be more welcoming.

“A lot of Boomers don’t want to be tied to a desk job for 50 hours a week,” said Matz, a volunteer with the group. “They want to work maybe 30 hours a week. Maybe they want to work from home. Maybe they want to work just on a particular project as a consultant. So it will require flexibility on the side of the Boomer and the company.”

Encouraging positive attitude

Looking for work can be traumatic, especially for older workers thrown into job searches after decades of employment, who now have to deal with a process that includes online resumes, social networks and job search sites like CareerBuilder.com, Jobing.com and Monster.com

“For most Boomers, when they entered the workforce, it was nothing like it is now,” said Jan Davie, director of Gateway College’s Center for Workforce Transition. “Now it is 24/7 and global.”

The center, which really got rolling in January, has been bringing employers and Boomer applicants together for several programs. It offers training, including computer skills, speed-dating-like sessions to teach applicants how to quickly summarize their skills, occasional job fairs and Boomer internship programs.

So far this year, 839 Boomers have registered for services, 438 have gone through training programs and 48 landed jobs, Davie said.

Several applicants getting job tips at a recent Scottsdale Job Network event said they are often discouraged because they feel like companies want younger workers.

Challenger advises clients to try to get past that and to not to take the rejections personally.

“All a job search is from the day you begin until you land an offer you want to take is one company after another telling you ‘No.’ Most of the time there’s a lot of candidates competing, and your odds of getting selected are very low in any given situation,” he said.

He said there is age discrimination, adding that most people in America are in “one protected class or other.”

“If I am Black, I am feeling like it (rejection) is because of that. If I am gay, it is because of that. If I am a woman, it’s because of that,” he said. “So I think most of us do face some discrimination, and you can’t let it become the overriding reason and let it become self defeating.”

Hanley said he was out of work about six months and landed his job at DataPreserve four years ago by networking. “Of course, you get discouraged, if you don’t get it,” he said. “But I didn’t give up and I smiled all the time so that people know I am a good guy. But it was definitely through the networking.”

Kevin Lemon, 60, of Scottsdale, who recently conducted job searches, also believes in personal interaction.

As for all the advice about using the Internet, he said, “It is just a lot more information, and I am not sure it is any better than the old-fashioned way, using a group like this (Scottsdale Job Network). It’s like anything else in life. It’s who you know.”

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More on this topic

10 friendly careers for Baby Boomers

• K-12 schoolteacher.

• Registered nurse.

• Pharmacist.

• Clergy.

• Bookkeeping, accounting or auditing clerk.

• Real-estate appraiser or assessor.

• Archivist, curator or museum technician.

• Chief executive officer.

• Landscape architect.

• Personal and home health-care aides.

10 other careers to consider:

• Medical assistant.

• Pharmacy technician.

• Library technician.

• Surveying or mapping technician.

• Bill or account collector.

• Loan counselor.

• Public-relations specialist.

• Interior designer.

• Animal caretaker.

• Floral designer.

Source: AARP Crash Course in Finding the Work You Love.

Where older job seekers are most welcome:

• Health care.

• Teaching.

• Consulting.

• Non-profit organizations.

• Customer service and customer relations.

• Small businesses.

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

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