Over 50 and in the job market

Some residents use first 50+ Expo to explore new careers

October 24, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

At 62, two years after an early retirement, Jack Knox is trying to reinvent himself.

Samuel Steiner, 52, wants to use several decades' worth of computer skills to start a new part-time career.

Glenn Cobb, 57, out of work for six months, is trying to restart his business management and finance career.

And Teressa Cross, 55, is looking for something besides a job as a nursing assistant or factory work.

They all attended Howard County's first 50+ Expo on Friday at Wilde Lake High School, passing up the free flu shots, the lectures on estate planning and financial security and the costumed actors loudly inviting everyone in sight to a Baltimore show called "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding."

The elaborate one-day event -- another indicator of Howard's fast-growing population of seniors -- had everything from companies advertising assisted-living housing to classes on how to fill out a resume to consumer advice direct from Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. If the parking crunch was a barometer, the event easily drew the 3,000 to 5,000 people officials had hoped for.

"We saw it as a way to reach out and help, and 50+ seems to make sense to a lot of people," said Phyllis Madachy, director of Howard County's Office on Aging.

Although the county's unemployment rate is less than 2 percent, and nationally only 2.6 percent of people ages 55 to 64 were unemployed last year, many middle-aged people want and need work. The booming economy is increasing their chances, officials say.

John J. "Jack" Knox of Columbia wasn't interested in all the distractions.

A 27-year Westinghouse executive who specialized in government contract work, he took early retirement two years ago when the firm was purchased by Northrop Grumman Corp.

"When I retired, I knew I wasn't done with work, but I didn't know what I wanted to do," he said. After taking math and sociology courses at Howard Community College, "I really decided that among the mega-trends of the new world, I'd like to work in health care and aging."

Like many others who emerge from long careers with one company, Knox has the sense that things have changed dramatically, especially for someone who wants to change fields, but he's optimistic, having just begun his search.

"There's going to have to be phased employment," he said, noting that people are living longer, and won't have single-job careers anymore. "You spend a career in a relatively high-pressure job, then you can taper off. The kids are out of college, you've bought the house, you're under less pressure, so you can move to a lower-paying, but more fulfilling job."

Glenn Cobb wishes it were so.

"I've been looking for six months," said the former business manager and Columbia resident. "It's not so easy to get back in the system."

If people earning $75,000 a year apply for a job paying $35,000, they might be turned away because the company thinks they'll leave for a better job at the first opportunity. "I've been on that side of the table," he said.

Sam Steiner of Columbia is retired after a computer career at the University of Maryland, he said, and he's trying to market his expertise to small businesses as a second career.

"I tried real estate, mortgage companies, but no matter what I do, I seem to end up doing computers," he said, calling the expo's job fair another "opportunity to put out feelers."

Cross, an Ellicott City native, said she did factory work for Head Sportswear for 25 years until the plant moved, and then worked as a nursing aide, but she's tired of that.

"I'd like to find something I could stay at for the next couple of years, but I don't know what," she said.

The job fair portion of the expo was a bit hard to find in the school's gymnasium . It also was somewhat skimpy on employers, several job searchers said.

Thirteen firms participated, but most were seeking entry-level retail workers, such as bank tellers, model-home hosts and store clerks.

Jerry Snavely, senior vice president of Primerica, a financial services corporation, said he's looking for about 10 people ages 50 to 70 to sell long-term health insurance part time. They would earn $500 to $2,000 a month.

"We're looking for people who tell stories," he said, explaining that people potential customers can identify with would be the best in sales.

Builders 1st Choice, a new-homes sales and marketing firm, is looking for people to staff model homes for $8.50 an hour, but if the employees proved to be good and diligent, said Martha Harper, director of recruitment, they could get into sales management and earn more than $50,000 a year.

"Sixty-two has a whole new meaning today than it used to," she said.

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