Program helping seniors find work Jobs: Older Marylanders who can't afford to retire get help staying in the workplace.

February 21, 1997|By Sheila Hotchkin | Sheila Hotchkin,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

Eleonore Leech had always pictured herself retiring with her husband by the time she hit her current age of 68. Her plans changed about a decade ago, when he died.

Now Leech cares for her 97-year-old mother, a task made more difficult when she lost her job in May. Several interviews did not produce any job prospects.

"You can say, 'I'm not going to let it get me down,' " Leech said. "But it does."

Leech of Arnold learned what she needed to re-enter the work force at one of several employment-assistance programs for JTC seniors in Maryland. Last week, she won a job as a doctor's receptionist.

Sandra Kelley, director of Career Services at the Anne Arundel YWCA, said the Seniors At Work program assists people such as Leech who cannot afford to retire.

Kelley said many seniors find retirement unrealistic because they cannot support themselves with pensions and Social Security. Others have children and grandchildren who need their help financially.

"We now talk about retirement as a career change," Kelley said.

According to 1990 census figures compiled by Maryland planners, about 14 percent of state residents older than 65 hold jobs.

Department figures also show that people older than 65 have an average income of $18,353 per year. The mean yearly income after retirement is $12,844.

"This program is really looking at people who have the economic need to return to work," Kelley said.

But these seniors face employment obstacles that include age discrimination, a changing workplace and a lack of confidence.

Leech can sympathize with most of these problems. She recalled the startled expression of one interviewer as she walked into the room.

"She just gave me this look that said, 'My God -- 68 years old,' " Leech said.

But while some employers illegally discriminate against older job applicants, others appreciate the dependability of well-screened seniors from the program, Kelley said. "Guess who's there in the snow and the ice," Kelley said.

Joe Tyson, owner of Jackson Hewitt Tax Services in Pasadena, hired a woman from Kelley's program. He wanted someone stable and dependable to fill the marketing position.

"This person is out in the field representing me," Tyson said.

The woman he hired has proved a good choice and demonstrated the qualities Kelley attributed to seniors, he said.

Once seniors find a job, they often have difficulty with changes they find in the workplace, particularly technology.

Barbara Sawyers of Glen Burnie, who found employment through the program, recalled a previous job in which her boss did not know the computer system well enough to teach her. He told her to be careful what key she hit because she might erase everything.

"I'm not smart with the computer, and he really intimidated me with them," Sawyers said.

Seniors also find the lack of formality in today's offices disconcerting. When they were younger, people dressed up more for work and no one used first names, Kelley said.

The program's first week consists of overcoming barriers to employment, including age discrimination, the changing workplace and individual problems.

"We have to leave some of this baggage behind us in order to move forward," said Joyce Deems, coordinator of the program at the YWCA.

During the second week, seniors complete job development activities, such as resume writing, interview techniques and networking.

According to Kelley, working seniors will soon become more common, making employment programs essential. In 1995, one in seven Marylanders was older than 60, state Office on Aging data show. That proportion is projected to rise to one in four by 2020.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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