Longer lives equal a need for jobs

Published 9:13 am Thursday, September 18, 2008

Emily Abrego hadn’t worked in a number of years, but found herself needing to do something.

When she visited the Workforce Development Center in Skyline Plaza, she was referred to Experience Works, the program originally known as Green Thumb.

Those in the program receive training and are placed within nonprofit organizations within the community. Abrego was placed at the Audubon Science Center.

Email newsletter signup

“I learned how to put things away and how to handle the animals,” she said, adding she also helps set up for parties and get snacks ready for students.

After her six-month training period, Abrego was hired part time there.

“I enjoy the challenges and rewards of working with children and animals,” Abrego said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with children — I used to baby sit and had a day care many years ago.”

Abrego is like many people today, said Betty Fulton, Senior Community Services Employment Program assistant at Workforce Development Center.

Americans are living longer, healthier lives, she said. The country is witnessing a dramatic growth in the population of Americans ages 55 and older. It means people are going to have to work longer. But unfortunately, many Americans 55 and older encounter serious difficulty finding employment, she added.

“One of the things I have found is that many seniors have too much month at the end of their money,” Fulton said. “They’re having to choose between rent, food and medical care.”

She said Social Security wasn’t designed to be a sole source of income, but it is for many.

Experience Works serves people ages 55 and older who have limited income and who are unemployed.

Fulton said older workers have a lot to offer. They generally have low absenteeism rates, good mature attitudes, a sense of responsibility, certain talents and are committed to quality.

When people come into Workforce Development and are referred to Experience Works, Fulton assesses the person and finds out where his or her talents and experience lie. “They’re placed in the program for any training to upgrade current skills and learn new skills. Sometimes we find they’ve done something for years and want a career change. Then they’re placed with a nonprofit organization in the community to get some work experience,” Fulton said.

Some do light janitorial work, some work in nursing homes or with children and others have worked in offices. They’re paid minimum wage for about 20 hours a week during that time, and begin looking for permanent work.

“Some just need some confidence,” Fulton said. “I feel it’s a really good program. It’s not a job for the rest of their lives, but it’s a boost in income while they’re looking for something permanent.

“Placing them gives them an opportunity to network with other people and they may pick up on job opportunities,” she added.

Experience Works is funded under Title V of the Older Americans Act. The roots of the program began in 1963, under John F. Kennedy. The program wasn’t instituted until 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson launched the first nonprofit organization created to operate a job program for rural America. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, put the first Green Thumb participants to work beautifying America with wildflowers. The program was renamed Experience Works in 2002.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the program can call Fulton at the Workforce Development Center, 379-3409.