About 8,000 people attended a Cleveland, Ohio, career fair in late March for a chance to interview with 63 employers with open positions. But this wasn't your typical job fair. All of the job seekers were 50 and older and all of the employers were specifically interested in hiring older workers. This event, sponsored by AARP and The Employment Guide, is one in a series of 48 career fairs in 19 states where the unemployment rate among older workers is 10 percent or more.
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Many of the participating employers say they want to hire older workers because it's good for business. They're looking for someone willing to work hard, mentor younger workers, and relate to customers. "When someone walks into our store, we want our folks to mirror what the community looks like," says Stephen Wing, director of workforce initiatives at CVS Caremark, one of the companies at the job fair. "We want them to see people who look like them when they walk in." Pharmacy customers tend to skew older and CVS Caremark wants employees that make their customers feel comfortable.
About 19 percent of CVS Caremark's 220,000 employees are age 50 and older, up from 7 percent in the early 90s. "From what I can tell, people coming in will search out someone older to get help," Wing says. "That older person probably had that same aching back or sore leg they are asking them for advice about."
Elders-only career fairs are among a number of resources designed to connect older workers who aren't financially ready to retire with companies eager to hire them. Job-search websites such as Seniors4Hire.org, Workforce50.com, and RetirementJobs.com cater to older jobseekers. "Most older workers think that there is age bias in the workplace, so they are concerned that they are going to spend a lot of time looking for jobs that they don't really have a good chance at," says Bill Coleman, vice president of research for RetirementJobs.com. "These jobs are geared toward and amenable to older workers." Some websites for older workers are industry-specific. The Employment Network for Retirement Government Experts, for example, assists retired federal, state, and local government employees with continued employment. And at Execunet.com, senior-level executives can share job leads.
Communities are also helping older workers retrain for new careers. Some colleges offer free or discounted tuition to local residents of certain ages. According to a 2009 American Association of Community Colleges survey, 84 percent of community colleges offer programs specifically for students over age 50.
Marcia Hurley, 56, a former restaurant owner in Paris, Texas, who closed her doors in 2008, found a new job through Experience Works, a nonprofit with offices in 30 states that aims to help low-income workers age 55 and older retrain for new jobs. "I was eligible for a program that allowed me to get paid while I updated my skills," she says. "They put me in a part-time position to get my skills built up and hopefully be moved up or be hired by the company and have better skills to offer when I go out into the workforce." Hurley spent 18 hours a week for three months retraining at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children, a nonprofit that works with abused and neglected children. Although there were no positions open at CASA at the conclusion of Hurley's paid on-the-job retraining, she was offered a full-time job as a case manager when a position opened up six months later.
Billy Wooten, executive director of program operations at Experience Works, says the seniors-only nature of many of the programs plays a role in the organization's success. "In our job search classes with only seniors, they find common ground in discussion and it plays a role in motivating them to maybe retrain," says Wooten. "For the older adults, it reinforces their worth and that what they have been through in their life indeed is valuable." But other job-search experts caution against limiting your job search exclusively to job websites and retraining programs specifically designed for older workers. "As an older individual, you definitely want to make sure that you are casting your net as wide as possible," says Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues for AARP. "Don't just confine yourself to those who are specifically reaching out to older workers."