Even in today's sagging economy, there's one category of worker that's still in demand.
"Older people are dependable, honest and consistent," says Dave Roach, Baltimore-region Human Resources Manager for Hardee's/Roy Rogers. "They make fantastic employees who learn their jobs inside, outside and backward."
Which is why the giant fast-food chain has introduced a training program for restaurant managers called "New Horizons." The program helps shatter negative myths and highlights the benefits of the older worker -- the type worker Hardee's senior management would like to see more of.
"The program talks about labor shortages and emphasizes hospitality," says Mr. Roach, explaining why the company, which has 110 restaurants in the Baltimore area and on the Eastern Shore, is targeting the retired. "Most older people grew up being hospitable, whereas younger workers have to be trained."
Yet managers still need to be informed that many of the myths surrounding older workers in the work place are just that -- myths: that customers don't like dealing with them, health insurance premiums go up, on-the-job accidents increase, and that older workers are less productive.
The myths just aren't true, he says. "Our company-wide goal is to offer 1,000 jobs nationally by the end of the year to workers over age 50."
There's another reason why older workers are such a good fit in the work place: America is getting older, resulting in a growing shortage of younger workers.
"As America moves into the 21st century, we are involved in major population changes," says Rosalie S. Abrams, director of the Maryland Office on Aging. "By the year 2000, Maryland will have approximately 834,000 older individuals. As our overall population ages, significant shortages of younger workers in the coming years can be expected."
Furthermore, many pensioners will continue to work part time to supplement their Social Security benefits. Social Security limits the amount beneficiaries can earn in wages or salary without losing benefits. The current caps are $7,440 (ages 62 through 64) and $10,200 (ages 65 through 69). There's no limit for people over age 70. Various proposals are being considered by Congress that could raise the earnings limit for retirees between the ages of 65 through 69 from the current $7,440 to a maximum of $20,000 a year.
Employers looking for part-time workers say the restrictions are a benefit to them, since most retired people only want to work a limited number of hours.
"The limited hours retired people seek because of Social Security makes them the kind of people we're looking for," explains Hardee's Mr. Roach, adding that fast-food restaurants like to hire older people to work during their busiest hours.
For example, Millie Mallory, 71, puts in 30 hours a week, "Making the biscuits and frying the chicken," at the Hardee's in Pigtown. She retired at age 62 from a technician job at Bon Secours Hospital. Mrs. Mallory calls the $5.25 an hour part-time job therapy.
"It's good for you," she said. "You meet so many beautiful people. If I could work every day at this pace, I'd do it."
Because she has reached the age of 70, Mrs. Mallory can make as much money as she likes and the total won't affect her Social Security earnings.
While many retired people work to supplement their pensions, other senior citizens get jobs to make a contribution to society and to stay active. John Ott, director of Baltimore's B&O Railroad Museum, says retired workers employed part time at the downtown museum "bring it to life.
"Their memories are so acute," he continues. "Older people have so much to offer -- mostly plain common sense from 50 or 60 years of experience. Our workers are truly company people, looking to help other people have a good time."
The museum employs older workers in paying, part-time positions as receptionists and as volunteers operating or restoring train equipment and as archivists and docents.
"It took them a lifetime to acquire their skills," says Shawn Cunningham, managing director of the B&O Railroad Museum. "They can use them here and feel good about themselves without the stress of the daily grind."
Nancy Brennan, executive director of the Baltimore City Life Museums, is effusive about the older part-time workers on her staff. Many of them are from neighborhoods near the museums.
"What they bring to us is a dignity and warmth," says Ms. Brennan, the director of the seven museums devoted to the urban history of Baltimore. "They interface between the staff and the public and make things go smoother. The staff is buoyed by their presence -- it's a win-win situation all the way around."
Ms. Brennan says many of the older workers must learn skills as diverse as making biscuits on an open hearth in a living history program, and operating a computer. "It's a challenging, but nurturing environment."
Employers interested in knowing more about hiring older workers can call the Maryland Office on Aging at (410) 225-1100 in Baltimore or (800) 338-0153. Retired people seeking part-time employment should contact their local agency on aging.
People over 55 who are looking for work and have a limited income can contact the Maryland Office on Aging about the Job Training Partnership Act program. The program offers eligible people job training and retraining to help them find employment, and pays them at the same time.