New to the workforce? Recovering from job loss? Staffing companies in Maine see age as just another skill worth leveraging.
Know someone approaching retirement age? Don’t be surprised if relaxing with grandkids or golfing on the links is not in their immediate future. More and more workers past retirement age are spending 9-5 in the workplace. Retirees entering the job market will find other older workers there, too: the enduring effects of the recent recession has turned many workers 55 and older into job seekers, while still others have decided to seek work for the first time.
Maine workers ages 55 and over are growing at a faster pace than in all other states. Maine’s population is one of the oldest in the nation, and that’s reflected in its workforce. At the same time, demand for older workers in Maine is on the rise, as a declining birth rate and out-migration of college graduates and other young workers deplete the state’s supply of younger workers.
For those in Maine’s job placement field, being tasked to help find the right job for an older, or “seasoned” worker is commonplace – it’s also far from impossible. In fact, life experience is often considered just one more quality to add to a job seeker’s resume.
The Seasoned Worker
Most consider the seasoned worker to be mid-fifty to 80 – and increasingly, even older. While the need for income tops the list of why older workers enter the job market, many are motivated by a need to seek social contact or to gain mental and physical stimulation.
“They range from the very unskilled to highly paid managers and scientists and every type of vocation in between,” said Bob Traill, Director of Diversified Recruitment at BONNEY Staffing Center. Traill travels all over the state working for BONNEY on Seasoned Worker and Veterans recruitment. Before joining BONNEY, he owned the Maine franchise of the national staffing company Olsten, since been bought by Adecco. At 90, he has a first-hand understanding of the issues faced by seasoned workers facing the search for employment.
“Some are frightened and unsure of themselves,” Traill said. But despite some apprehension, he said most seasoned workers are thoughtful, mature, and respectful. And while some may have limited education, he finds them consistently well-spoken, good communicators. Older workers also come with built-in benefits to employers, Traill said – reliability, promptness, and experience, and an ability to serve as models for younger workers among them.
“They’re established, they recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and they are willing to learn,” said Cheryle Nielsen-Pesce, Branch Manager of BONNEY’s Windham office, about the seasoned workers she sees. “They’re not involved in or looking for the social drama that sometimes surrounds other generations.”
BONNEY Branch Manager Heather Mott’s experience is similar. She sees many older workers at her Bangor branch who come in fresh from retirement when they find being at home every day isn’t what they thought it would be. She said that whether we want to admit it or not, there is a vast difference in the seasoned workforce and the unseasoned workforce. “They work hard, they come in early, they stay late, and they are willing to work their way up,” she said. It’s a pleasant contrast to some of the younger workers she sees who prefer to bypass entry level positions, create their own schedules, and expect higher pay.
Traill said there are more opportunities in the state for retirees like those Mott encounters than there were before the recession. But even at BONNEY, the job requirements are the job requirements – staffing specialists must be certain that the worker has the skills and interests to meet those requirements, and there can be no difference in the considerations for a successful assignment, regardless of age. For the seasoned worker, that can present some challenges.
Hiring Seasoned Workers
Despite the changing landscape, seasoned workers face obstacles. First, ageism in the workplace remains. (According to research from the AARP, many older workers cite discrimination as the reason for job loss.) When older workers re-enter the workforce, gaps in work history can mean a pass when it comes to hiring. There are also hurdles beyond their resume: some managers can be impatient when seasoned workers have to learn new tasks, and some employers question older workers’ energy and enthusiasm.
“Positions exist now that seasoned workers aren’t prepared for and didn’t even exist twenty years ago,” said Traill. “Older workers can sometimes be overwhelmed with the learning curve or learning new processes.” As older workers enter the job market the number of baby boomers engaged in educational activities, certifications and other job training to update their skills has grown, making them more prepared. Even so, technical knowledge is often cited as a barrier, as is their ability to adjust to today’s faster work pace.
For quality staffing companies, matching skill sets with jobs is just part of the process of finding the right employee, no matter who the job seeker is. For Julie Banta, Assistant Branch Manager at BONNEY’s Augusta office, birth dates are of no interest to her. “Our clients are looking for people who are reliable and dependable with good skills,” she said. “Age does not play a role here.”
“In Kennebec County, we are able to promote these candidates even with the skills gap if they have a long work history prior to retirement,” Banta said, adding, “Our clients love them.” She points to an example of an 80-year old worker that came to her several years ago seeking a job. The prospect of finding her the right position was exciting, not discouraging. She had the right opening with a client for a part-time administration position at a local non-profit. “The client loved her and hired her on the spot. She has now been working there for 5 years and is 85 years young,” she said.
The Staffing Advantage
For the seasoned worker entering the job market, the staffing industry provides an advantage that scouring classifieds or sending out resumes can’t touch. The biggest reason? Staffing agencies serve any and all employers, which means there is usually something of interest for anyone.
“More and more employers are turning to staffing companies for personnel selection to reduce risk in an uncertain economy, and to provide employees when demand for their products and services peaks,” said Traill. He includes non-profits and municipalities as well as private enterprises in the list of employers providing work opportunities across the age spectrum. As part of their Seasoned Worker program, BONNEY holds initial informal meetings organized specifically for seasoned workers. This allows them to describe themselves and learn about opportunities available to them in an informal, social setting. Staffing specialists at BONNEY provide training resources and recommendations to sharpen their skills, assistance with creating or updating their resume, and education about what to expect when re-entering the workforce. They also help seasoned job seekers identify ways they can transfer existing skills to new employment opportunities.
Staffing companies also provide another unique advantage: Partnering with a staffing company means the job seeker is part of a long-term relationship with someone committed to their success. This kind of relationship can help workers find their footing in the job market so they can find the job that is right for them, and even uncover buried professional passions. Said Nielsen-Pesce, “Our BONNEY experience offers seasoned workers the opportunities to be presented for positions in organizations and industries that they may have always had an interest in, but never dared to venture into.”
For seasoned workers, the staffing relationship can turn what can seem like a difficult road into a success story. Sarah Joy, Branch Manager of BONNEY’s Portland office has worked with one seasoned worker since 2007, placing him with both full and part-time work in a variety of fields. Some were in his trade – accounting – and some weren’t. He was laid off in 2012, but Joy said he didn’t skip a beat. “He came right back and jumped right back in,” she said. Ultimately, his varied experience led to his candidacy for a Temp-to-Hire position with a well-known local business that was a spot-on match for his skill set. He was hired.
Joy said it’s a job that both staffing specialists and workers alike consider the holy grail – a perfect fit. “We couldn’t be happier for a field employee,” she said. What made the difference? He was flexible, willing to try anything, and has a great attitude, characteristics Joy believes paid off – just as they might for a worker of any age.