By Philip Moeller
Even before the Great Recession, a rising percent of retirement-age folks were still working. The economy was strong, consumers were spending like crazy and lots of jobs were, in physical terms at least, not taxing for older employees. Today, the percent of people over age 65 who are working or seeking work has reached new highs. But the reasons for the continued trend have changed drastically.
The economy and consumer spending have recovered slowly, and job growth has been anemic. Retirement plans have been deferred, if not destroyed, for millions of Americans. So, it's either back to work, or if you're lucky, keeping a solid job as long as you can. Retirement is still in the cards, perhaps. But for many, it now includes at least part-time work until age 70.
Still, these largely negative factors are driving lots of positive changes that will help older Americans fashion solid work-retirement plans. For the past few years, a foundation-funded initiative called Tapping Mature Talent worked with the U.S. Department of Labor. The effort produced 10 demonstration sites across the country to help develop successful ways to find, train and employ older workers. Even though the project started at the same time as the economic downturn, the sites achieved a 50 percent job placement rate, on average.
During the initiative from 2009 to 2012, people at the locations tried different approaches, and some best practices emerged from these efforts, according to Amy Sherman, an associate vice president at the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provided assistance to the sites. Here are some of the program's most helpful findings:
1. Get credit for what you know. Many older job seekers have rich personal experiences that would make them qualified to succeed at jobs, she says. But often, this knowledge does not translate into the more formal work experiences employers are seeking. Enrolling in a certification program or seeking college credit for such experience can develop the third-party credentials that would lead to a job. CAEL has built a college credit predictor tool that can help translate experience into college-credit equivalents.
2. You are a brand. Aggressive personal promotion has become a standard employment technique. Yet many older people are uncomfortable tooting their own horn, and may not know how to use the social media tools that can be megaphones for job seekers. "It's almost like learning how to be a salesperson for yourself and of branding yourself," Sherman says. "This is really challenging."
3. Career navigators. Today's workplace can be daunting, particularly for someone who's been out of the workforce for only a few years. Specific job skills, particularly involving computers, may need to be relearned. Job-search and interviewing techniques have also been transformed by the Internet, and the explosion of social media sites. Having a "go-to" point person to coordinate job placement services has proven helpful.
4. Offer your services. Unpaid internships can be a great way to get your foot in the door of an industry or employer you like. You get experience, an addition to your résumé and knowledge of how to improve your skills.
Tips 5-9 and the complete USNews article