Back on the Market
Area job training centers help older workers
By Richard Bammer
When Wall Street laid an egg last year, wiping out nearly half the value of retirement accounts, many older workers chose to delay retirement and stay on the job -- or are desperately seeking work after being pink-slipped amid massive corporate layoffs.
Some of those older, laid-off workers, roughly 50 to 70 years of age and forced to consider new lines of work, are finding help at local and regional job training centers that are getting a boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama on Feb. 17.
At the Workforce Investment Board of Solano County in Fairfield, executive director Robert Bloom said that, increasingly, middle-aged jobseekers, from their mid-30s to mid-50s, are using the resources at his offices, at 320 Campus Lane, a stone's throw from the Solano Community College campus.
"I've seen a tremendous volume of that age group coming through the door," he said. "There are actually people standing in line at 8 a.m. when I arrive."
Many who come for computer training, job counseling or computerized job searches, said Bloom, are unemployed for the first time ever after a 20- or 30-year career or newly unemployed for the first time in many years.
But WIB, as it's called for short, is due to receive roughly $4.1 million in federal economic-stimulus money, to expand and create new services for a growing job-seeking population that is graying around the ears, said Bloom.
Among them are adult programs, including "skills-sharpening services" and "job club" programs ($728,550); dislocated worker programs ($1.8 million); and youth programs, including summer-only jobs and paid work experience at nonprofit and for-profit companies ($1.57 million).
The new federal money also will help enhance WIB's One Stop Career Center and help to pay for workshops, said Bloom.
A spokesperson for Experience Works -- a nonprofit, nationwide agency that operates the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which has offices in the Solano-Napa area -- said the $120 million in federal stimulus money will help many older people who are being forced back into the workplace in order to make ends meet.
"This program provides an important safety net and stepping stone for many who are facing difficult times," said Teal Kinamun, the spokesperson for Experience Works, which maintains a Web site at www.experienceworks.org. (A more local representative, Stephanie Cabral, could not be reached at her Napa office.)
Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, SCSEP is free to people 55 and older who meet low-income criteria. The program helps older people with self-assessments, technical and skills training, job searches and appropriate job placement. The goal is to provide the older, low-income jobseeker with skills to turn a community service job into a permanent job with a local employer, said Kinamun.
She said Experience Works has seen an increase of up to 70 percent nationwide in the number of seniors who are seeking help.
"We're are not talking about people who need a little extra income to help pay for their hobbies," said Kinamun. "We are seeing people who need jobs to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and medicine in the cabinet."
In a press release, she cited figures that mirror those of a state group, the nonprofit California Budget Project, which found that the employment rate among Californians ages 65 to 69 increased by more than 9 percentage points between 1995 and 2008, from 20.3 percent to 29.7 percent. Most of the increase took place between 2000 and 2008.
The study found the same trend among slightly younger workers, those between the percentage of that group with jobs increased from 54.8 percent to 63 percent during the same 13-year period.
The organization attributed the increase to several factors, among them longer life expectancy, improved health and diminished retirement security.
At the Small Business Development Center at Solano College, director Charles Eason said a few older workers pass through his offices at 360 Campus Lane, Fairfield. However, he does not keep track of specific age groups who seek the center's services, training (starting and managing a business and bookkeeping) and counseling.
"We do see older people who are retired and want to start a business or a franchise," he said, adding that among them are former government workers who want to become paid consultants.