Going Back to Work in Your Golden Years

Many 60-somethings are getting hit with a cold, hard reality: Their evaporated investment portfolios mean the golden years of retirement are getting further out of reach. In fact, the market’s downturn has taken such a toll that many retirees are now dusting off their resumes and trying to find work.

Older workers (55 and over) tend to have relatively low unemployment rates (in part because younger workers, with less professional experience, are often the first to be let go), but the devastating jobs picture is undermining that advantage, according to a February report from the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank. When the recession began in December 2007, older workers accounted for just over 11% of the total unemployed. That number jumped to almost 13% in February.

Besides the fact that the timing couldn’t be worse, the growing ranks of older job seekers face some formidable hurdles. After all, many haven’t been on a job interview in decades. “They don’t know how to package their skills and accomplishments. They think the trick is just to list everything they’ve done, and get a job based on cumulative experience,” says David Delong, president of David DeLong & Associates, a research and consulting firm on work force issues.

Outdated skills are another obstacle. Many 60-somethings aren’t up to speed with the latest technology and may not qualify for certain positions because of it. So if acronyms like HTML and SEO sound like a foreign language to them, they’ll need to brush up.

Here are some steps the 60-and-over job-hunting crowd can take to get back in the job market.

Know where the jobs are

Sure, it’s hard to imagine that any industry is hiring these days. But it’s not as hopeless as you might think. Even better: Certain industries and employers are growing particularly friendly to older workers. According to the Urban Institute, an economic policy nonprofit, the 20 fastest-growing occupations among those with above-average shares of workers 55 and older include home health-care aides, pharmacists, veterinarians and (oddly enough) animal trainers.

Other industries holding up in the downturn include education and the government. Search for full- and part-time jobs available in your area on the many sites that cater to older workers. Among those that offer listings and advice are Workforce50.com, RetirementJobs.com, and Encore.org.

Get trained

Many community colleges offer programs designed especially for seniors looking to get back into the work force. Rio Salado Community College in Arizona, for example, launched a program in partnership with AARP that helps older workers learn the ins and outs of job searching, including lessons on networking, building a resume and interviewing. The college also offers a noncredit basic computer literacy class.

The summer program at Dallas’s Richland Community College will offer elderly students a workshop called “Job Search: You’re Not Old, You’re Experienced,” as well as courses on how to pursue an encore career and starting your own business. “Now with all these layoffs, these folks are only interested in, ‘What now?’” says Mitzi Werther, director of Richland’s emeritus program, which serves people over 50.

Other programs focus on more specialized training. Virginia’s department of education, for example, offers a 16-week fast-track program to get a teaching license. The certification program, which costs $3,150, entails both online and on-site instruction.

Tap into nonprofit and local training programs

Local nonprofit agencies are a great resource for training opportunities. Operation ABLE in Boston, for instance, offers clerical and customer-service training courses. “The big thing now for mature workers who are losing jobs or needing to get back to work is they need new skills, and it’s usually around office technology, says Tom McFarland, a spokesman. “We built both of these programs to get people back into office positions.” Programs like these can be pricey (Operation ABLE’s customer-service program costs $3,750), but financial aid and student loans are available to people who qualify.

Take advantage of government resources

For lower-income job seekers, the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which is sponsored by the Department of Labor, offers people 55 and over access to training and part-time job opportunities. Available through organizations like Operation ABLE or AgeOptions, a nonprofit that serves seniors in suburban Chicago, these programs place participants in community service positions at government agencies and nonprofits for 20 hours a week, and usually pay them minimum wage (which varies by state). “Their only obligation is to provide you with some kind of training in an area you don’t already have [experience in], so that over a period of time you matriculate off the program into unsubsidized employment,” says McFarland.

Your local department on aging should have information about programs specific to seniors’ needs, as should individual states’ labor departments.