Decades ago, James Hawkins was a case manager helping young people get jobs. These days, he’s seeking help to bolster his existing skills so he can find work.
Hawkins is working with National Able Network, a federally funded entity which, as of late November 2018, was helping about 150 Delaware adults aged 55 and older to secure jobs. He’s gaining interview skills and learning how to operate a computer database.
“Being in the program and working alongside other seniors doing the same thing makes it a little easier,” Hawkins, 76, says. “It keeps you encouraged and motivated.”
Christopher Waters, program manager at the network’s New Castle branch, points to the role of an administrative assistant as a good example of the ever-changing job landscape. A position once primarily limited to answering phones and taking messages now also includes using computers and spreadsheets, he explains
Working on basic computer skills is the first step for many of the network’s job seekers, Waters says. The Delaware Department of Labor’s Division of Employment and Training offers a free class.
Waters says it’s particularly important for older adults to maintain confidence despite facing unique challenges.
“We see their experiences as something that can be tapped into with retraining, but sometimes employers don’t,” he says. “We try to tell our participants about taking the skills you have, remolding them and adding additional skills on top.”
Delaware’s unemployment rate (which only includes people actively seeking work) among men is 1.8 percent for those aged 35 to 44, and 3.2 percent for those aged 55 and older.
Among Delaware women, the highest unemployment rate is 3.8 percent for those aged 55 to 64. For women aged 65 and older, it’s only at 1.1 percent, but this may be more because few women at this age are actively seeking work.
Age discrimination is one explanation, Waters says.
But isn’t that illegal? Indeed. Employment discrimination against people 40 and older has been against the law for more than 50 years. Unfortunately, it’s typically tough to prove.
A discriminatory employer may simply provide a vague or misleading reason for his or her decision not to hire you.
When it comes to addressing age in a professional setting, an older worker is sometimes well served to simply mention it outright, Waters says. Acknowledging the “elephant in the room” can “make everyone more at ease,” he adds.
But more often the better tactic, Waters argues, is to emphasize the specific benefits you would bring to the employer.
For Hawkins, finding a job has a lot to do with simply feeling useful.
“I work primarily because I want to work,” he says. “I’ve been a direct provider of services for most of my life, and I feel like they meet people’s needs.”
If you’d like to learn more about the National Able Network, call (855) 994-8300.