Employers from Vermont to Vancouver are facing unforeseen difficulties in attracting qualified workers, but there are jobhunters over 55 who know all too well the challenges of finding meaningful employment.
Ageism is more pervasive than ever, and harsh reality is difficult to deny. Accelerated technology, plus political and socioeconomic factors, tend to reward workers who are younger and less expensive. Those that want to move up, and move beyond, and move faster, often end up moving out.
Vermont has the third oldest population in the U.S., and many residents who are not ready to retire are often forced into jobs that are stereotypes for mature workers. They become so disheartened that they give up their quest for more fulfilling employment.
A St. Albans-based nonprofit, Associates for Training & Development — “A4TD” for short — is dedicated to helping them renew that quest. A4TD assists mature workers (age 55 and older) with resources, connections and additional training to remain engaged and fulfilled in the workforce.
The organization’s founder, Pat Elmer, who is A4TD’s current president and CEO, had been working as a teacher with young children in 1983 when she recognized the demand for services focused on unemployed workers over 55. That year, A4TD was awarded its first federal grant.
Since then, by operating innovative projects that serve the diverse needs of all types of job seekers, A4TD has built an extensive expertise in workforce development. Because the organization coordinates and collaborates at all levels — local, state, and national — it is considered a leader in the design and operation of training and employment programs that work for individuals, businesses, and community partners.
As such, A4TD is the perfect embodiment of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “For our own success to be real, it must contribute to the success of others.”
In a recent conversation, Rick Bugbee, A4TD’s vice president of programs, provided details about A4TD’s training and employment programs; why the demand for A4TD’s services is growing; and A4TD’s impact on mature Vermonters’ overall well-being.
“Many mature workers are hoping to return to the workforce following several years as a caretaker, or time off for health reasons,” Bugbee said. “Their education ranges from no high school, all the way to master’s degrees. In some cases, they’ve been out of touch with the work environment in general. Consequently, they often lack the technology skills and social network essential for landing their next job.”
Bugbee added that A4TD also assists adults who were employed for decades in strenuous industries, like construction and manufacturing, who want to continue working after they leave those industries. “We help them strengthen other skills they like using, like customer service and project management, when they begin to pursue new opportunities,” he said.
Citing the difficulties Covid social distancing has created for mature jobseekers who lack computer skills, Bugbee said: “Some of them have never even used a computer, let alone owned one. For low-income Vermonters, we offer free or affordable computer training and equipment, so they have connectivity to the workforce.”
As part of its coordination and collaboration efforts, A4TD partners with Vermont employers, educators (among them, CCV, Stafford Tech, and Castleton University), and other nonprofits, to devise solutions about the labor shortage in general, with a focus on the mature worker. A4TD also operates in Maine, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Following are snapshots of A4TD’s three signature programs.
1. The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) enrolls qualified job seekers in temporary, part-time, paid-training community service positions at public agencies or non-profits in their local communities. Participants gain work experience at schools, hospitals, day-care centers, and senior centers. The program provides over 40 million community service hours to those agencies, allowing them to provide and enhance needed services. There is no cost to a partner organization for hosting a SCSEP participant. Participant training wages and other costs are paid by A4TD through funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.
2. Learn IT 2 Work is a computer skills training program that helps adults of all ages gain the skills necessary to research topics online and apply for jobs online. A comprehensive curriculum ensures that participants learn all they will need to operate a computer, navigate the internet, produce documents, apply for positions online, and use email as part of their job search process. A4TD’s friendly trainers help participants feel at ease, and class sizes are small, ensuring personal attention and individual support.
3. The Vermont Returnship Program is a collaboration between A4TD and the Vermont Dept. of Labor. A “returnship” is a limited-duration work experience, designed specifically for adults with previous experience in the workplace, who have taken time away from their careers or are looking for a career change. The program helps people identify their transferrable skills, job goals, and training needs, and then matches them with quality employers.
Services include monthly networking sessions where mature jobseekers can discuss their concerns and successes with peers facing similar challenges.
In summarizing A4TD’s overall impact, Rick Bugbee said: “We are driven to improve mature workers’ self-sufficiency, helping them land sustainable jobs they like. In the process, we are also striving to improve their lives.”
And, for employers, he added: “If you’re looking to hire the same kinds of people as before Covid, that may not be possible. The older Vermonter can be your solution.”
His advice is echoed by Vermont Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Bishop. “Our mature workers have never been more vital,” she said. “We also need employers to recruit with a diversity and inclusion lens, and to consider job-sharing and part-time offers. All workers want more flexibility these days.”
If you’re a mature worker who has felt discouraged in your quest for meaningful work, and you are hesitant about returning to jobhunting, then consider the following advice (again from Eleanor Roosevelt): “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”
The compassionate professionals at A4TD are ready to listen, assist, and cheer you on.
For more information about Associates for Training & Development, visit: a4td.org.