Seniors Find Ways to Enter the Work Force

Senior citizens find ways to enter the workforce again through innovative jobs program

By Tasha Cunningham
Special to the Miami Herald

CW Griffin / Miamin Herald Staff

Gail Willingham, works with Jessica Bras on advanced math as she tutors children at Miami Beach Senior High School through a program called AVID.

As the U.S. economy continues to recover from the recession, more senior citizens are entering the workforce today compared to 2010, according to a new Gallup poll released in October. Senior Americans aged 65 and older in the workforce increased from 22 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2013.

Clyde Fleming is one of them. After spending more than 30 years working for Jackson Health System as an administrator, he recently joined the workforce again after having been retired for five years.

But the former healthcare executive wasn’t pounding the pavement answering help wanted ads when he decided to join the professional ranks. Instead, a friend told Fleming about ReServe, a nonprofit program that matches seniors aged 55 and older with jobs.

“I enjoyed being retired. But after a while, I began to miss the work environment that I had spent decades in at Jackson,” said Fleming. “I wanted to find a way to give back to my community in at a place where my skills and experience would be of value.”

“I enjoyed being retired. But after a while, I began to miss the work environment that I had spent decades in at Jackson,” said Fleming. “I wanted to find a way to give back to my community in at a place where my skills and experience would be of value.”

Fleming considered trying to find a job through traditional means.

“Before I talked to friends about my desire to go back to work, I thought about going online and browsing help wanted ads,” said Fleming. “But I knew I would be competing with people half my age and that’s something that many seniors face on their search for a job.”

Seniors face very real barriers to entering the workforce, according to Christine McMahon, president and CEO of Fedcap, the organization that operates ReServe.

Fedcap was founded in 1935 to help people who, at the time, weren’t often considered for gainful employment including the disabled and the elderly. Based in New York, Fedcap operates seven ReServe chapters in the United States including Boston, Newark and Miami.

In addition to ReServe, Fedcap, a not-for-profit, also runs several other programs to help youth and veterans, primarily in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. find meaningful employment. FedCap operates ReServe and receives funding for the program from foundations like the United Way and the MetLife Foundation, among a host of others.

“The recession has taken its toll on the nation as a whole, but for seniors, it has been particularly tough,” said McMahon. “While they have a tremendous experience and skill, it is hard for them to join the workforce again because there are many misperceptions out there about them, like they can’t work as hard as their younger counterparts because of their age, and that, unfortunately, creates a barrier to hiring for them.”

Since its inception in 2005, ReServe has matched 3,000 seniors to jobs around the nation. The Miami chapter was launched in 2012. And to date, 37 seniors have been matched through the program with positions, primarily in the not-for-profit sector.

“We have recruiters in each city that operates a chapter,” said McMahon. “They work to actively engage employers in both sectors to partner with ReServe and hire program participants.”

To participate in the ReServe program, seniors begin by filling out an application online. They attend a session with ReServe staff to evaluate their skills for a possible employment match. From there, seniors who are accepted into the program are given access to the Opportunity Board, a Web-based tool that allows them to browse current job opportunities available exclusively through ReServe. “Through Opportunity Board, program participants can then find opportunities that match their particular skill set and begin the process of being matched for a position,” said McMahon. “Available job opportunities range from short-term and longer term assignments to permanent hires.”

ReServe works directly with employers to present the best candidates for a position.

“We charge employers $15 per hour of which the employee receives $10 per hour. Participants are on the ReServe payroll, so we take care of taxes and other costs associated with bringing on a new employee, so we eliminate those costs for the employer,” McMahon said. Fleming, who joined ReServe earlier this year, is a manager for the Alliance for Aging, where he is working on a yearlong assignment to develop a program that educates seniors about how to avoid being exploited financially.

“It’s the perfect job for me,” said Fleming. “I’m giving back by building a consortium that includes agencies, financial institutions, law enforcement and others to launch a program that is going to tackle a major public issue affecting seniors.”

For Gail Willingham, a native Miamian, ReServe offered flexibility: She was able to give back to children and earn money, and she also had time to pursue her love of acting.

“After joining ReServe in 2012, I was matched with a position as a tutor for the Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program at Brownsville High School,” said Willingham. “AVID is a college-readiness program that helps get students on the path to higher education. I get to work part time and still pursue the activities I love.”

For many seniors in the ReServe program, earning a paycheck is secondary to helping the community through their work.

Kelsey Dorsett, a former entrepreneur who lives in Overtown, was looking for volunteer opportunities online when he came across the ReServe program.

“I owned and sold a business before I retired,” said Dorsett, who also works for AVID at Booker T. Washington High School. “I thought volunteering would be a great way to give back. Then I found ReServe. It’s an innovative way to get seniors who have excellent experience back into the workforce to share their knowledge with others.”

Virginia Aponte enjoys sharing her career experiences seniors on the hunt for employment.

A New York resident who worked in publishing for Random House and in television for NBC before moving to Miami, Aponte worked in human resources for the Coconut Grove Playhouse until it closed in 2006. Today, she is a program manager at ReServe in Miami helping other seniors like her find work.

“Senior citizens are repurposing themselves through ReServe to address issues in their communities and make life better for the people who live and work there,” said Aponte. “And employers are getting very talented people to work for them whose expertise is worth well beyond what they are being paid. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

There are plans in the works to reach beyond the Miami area with ReServe, according to McMahon, the head of Fedcap.

“We have had a great deal of interest from Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to start chapters there,” said McMahon. “We see Florida as an ideal market for program expansion, and it’s very exciting to think about the seniors that we can put to work changing their communities for the better.”

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