Older workers crucial to Maine economy

Jobseeker David Rudolph, 79, of Thomaston spoke at Wednesday's summit on Maine's older workers about some of his experiences looking for work. He has experience in the fields of education, community mental health and social services, was a small business-owner and more over the last several decades and is now seeking full or part-time work, preferably in administration.
Jobseeker David Rudolph, 79, of Thomaston spoke at Wednesday's summit on Maine's older workers about some of his experiences looking for work. He has experience in the fields of education, community mental health and social services, was a small business-owner and more over the last several decades and is now seeking full or part-time work, preferably in administration.
Posted Oct. 05, 2011, at 6:37 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 06, 2011, at 12:57 p.m.

NORTHPORT, Maine — Job seeker David Rudolph is educated, with several degrees under his belt. He’s experienced, having worked in various positions ranging from chief of security at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland to longtime owner of a bridal shop in Dexter.

He’s also 79 years old.

And that is a number that may be hindering the Thomaston man as he searches for a full- or part-time job, work that he says is a necessity rather than a choice.

“The employer has got to understand that older workers have problems, and it’s economics. They’re not getting ahead,” said the energetic Rudolph, who looks years younger than his age.

Rudolph spoke Wednesday at the “Grayest State, Greatest Opportunities: The Maine Mature Workforce” summit, held at Point Lookout in Northport. He came to share his story with the roomful of employers, state labor officials and others. But he also came to eagerly share neat copies of his resume with anyone who might ask, in hopes that the summit might lead him to a job.

The summit’s goal was to encourage Maine employers and policy leaders to invest in older workers like Rudolph, a group that organizers called one of the state’s most important resources and an “enormous competitive asset.”

In fact, Adam Fisher of the Maine Department of Labor said that instead of the much-discussed “brain drain,” the state is a net importer of people with college degrees. They just happen to be older people, he said, who are attracted to Maine as a destination.

Older workers are a resource that is projected to grow quickly. Maine has the nation’s oldest population, with a median age of 41 1/2 years, and by 2028, almost half of Mainers will be older than 50. According to a 2010 report from the Maine Jobs Council, the decline in younger workers will lead to a projected labor shortage in some economic sectors and sustaining growth in the state will become more difficult.

“Only if people over age 65 remain in the work force can there be growth in the labor force,” the report, “Maine’s Aging Workforce: Opportunities and Challenges,” stated.

There are many myths around hiring older workers, according to Amy Sherman of the Chicago-based Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, who spoke at the summit.

Older workers are sometimes thought to be less physically fit than younger workers, take more sick days and need more health care. Some believe that older workers aren’t as computer-savvy or as able to learn new skills as younger employees. They are thought to be too expensive.

These suppositions are not true, she told the audience. Research has found that there is no significant relationship between age and job performance. Older workers have better attendance records than younger people. And older workers have fewer accidents on the job than younger ones.

“This is a very important issue,” Sherman said about hiring older employees. “And it’s an economic issue. It’s not a social service or a charity.”

Although in some ways Maine is a national leader on the matter of supporting the maturing work force, it does have some particular challenges.

John Dorrer, a retired economist with the Maine Department of Labor, said the state is “program rich and strategy poor.” Too many times the state lurches from one temporarily funded federal program to another, he said.

“If we don’t have a strategy, we’ll be out-competed by states that do,” he said. “An integral part of getting the economy moving is engaging the fastest-growing segment of the work force.”

He spoke of the need to encourage Maine’s thousands of small businesses to bring more older workers on board. Many of the state’s larger employees, including L.L. Bean and Cianbro, are already doing a good job with this.

“I’m afraid if we don’t deal with these [small] businesses in a constructive way, we could get run over,” he said.

Toward that end, the statewide Aging Worker Initiative aims to support older workers and connect them with viable employment and training opportunities. The program is supported by a three-year federal grant and run by Coastal Counties Workforce Inc.

After the summit, Mike Bennett of Cianbro, which was named in September as one of AARP’s best employers for workers over 50, said the company has benefited from its older workers. More than a third of Cianbro’s work force is over 50, with seven percent over 60.

“We’re very fortunate, as an organization, to have the population we do,” he said. “It’s a tremendous resource. They’re very skillful, very knowledgeable, and have a tremendous work ethic. They bring institutional knowledge.”

However, older Mainers looking for work also can have a big confidence gap. They might not have ever created a resume and may have to brush up on their interviewing skills.

“The biggest hurdle in dealing with mature workers I’ve found is self-esteem. It’s down at the bottom of the tank,” said a Career Center official who commented during a summit presentation.

Rudolph has been there. He said he had been turned down for many jobs on the basis of having too much experience or being too highly educated.

“I was getting discouraged,” he said.

Then, he went to the Career Center in Rockland, where a counselor believed in him and his potential. Now, the almost-octogenarian is more hopeful in his job quest and sounded optimistic when he considered his unique set of experience and skills.

“Every time I’ve changed jobs I’ve always dedicated myself,” he said. “I learned my way. I’ve been loyal to them, and I tried my hardest to do my best.”

Jade Arn, Program Manager at Coastal Counties Workforce Inc., can be reached at 725-5472 or at jarn@coastalcounties.org.

Silver Collar Awards

At the summit, the Maine Jobs Council gave its annual Silver Collar Awards to employers who understand the importance of recruiting, training, accommodating and retaining older workers.

Winners are:

Bangor Savings Bank

Penobscot Job Corps Academy

Care and Comfort

University College of Bangor

athenahealth

Auburn Walmart

Public Consulting Group

Goodwill of Northern New England

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