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More Programs for Job Seekers Should Be Like This

Operation A.B.L.E. helps older applicants get what they need to get hired


There’s not a lot of talk this week about jobs for older workers at The American Society on Aging’s (ASA) annual Aging in America conference I’m attending in Chicago. Apparently, this is not a hot button issue with this group, although help for older job seekers really should be one.

But I did find one session on the importance of training and education programs to help older workers find jobs, or keep them, which I’d like to tell you about. (I also spoke at a panel on the usefulness of working past the traditional retirement age, along with Don Blandin, president and CEO of the Investor Protection Trust and a Next Avenue 2016 Influencer in Aging and Cindy Hounsell, president of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement and a Next Avenue 2015 Influencer in Aging).

Operation A.B.L.E. of New England

The older-worker session I sat in on was called Starting a Jobs Center for Workers 45+. It was led by Joan Cirillo, CEO of Operation A.B.L.E of New England (Ability Based on Long Experience), a nonprofit in Boston whose mission is to help workers 45 and over get back to work. It operates in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

We could certainly use more centers like Operation A.B.L.E., which has offered training and employment to roughly 35,000 people over 45 since 1982. And since 2000, more than 16,000 job seekers over 45 have found positions through the organization’s help.

We can’t find you a job, but we can make you develop a strategic career outreach plan to know where you’re going

— Martha Field, Operation A.B.L.E.

Here’s why it’s a center worth replicating: Many older job applicants simply aren’t up to snuff with the skills that today’s employers demand. Often, boomer job hunters lack basic job-hunting skills because they haven’t had to construct a resumé and cover letter in two decades or ever apply for a job online. They may need assistance on setting up a LinkedIn profile, too.

I came away from the ASA session concluding that Operation A.B.L.E. might offer a model for how other centers can connect prospective older workers with jobs.

What Makes A.B.L.E. Worth Duplicating

What appeals to me most about A.B.L.E.: it’s a multi-tiered program with a variety of services, from offering resources such as job listings to basic computer training to resumé and cover letter tutorials to help brushing up on interview skills. It also provides access to one-on-one coaching, paid internships and apprenticeships and networking clubs.

“We’re teaching you how to find a job, said Martha Field, program director for the group’s ABLE AgeWorks, whose participants are highly skilled, educated and experienced professionals. “We can’t find you a job, but we can make you develop a strategic career outreach plan to know where you’re going.”

One of A.B.L.E.’s most useful features: a job board linking to regional employers who are supportive of older workers and serve on the group’s advisory board. These include Fidelity, Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, Harvard and TJX Companies (parent of retailers TJ Maxx and Marshalls) and The Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

And A.B.L.E.’s job club helps job seekers network with others like them, supporting one another and keeping each other focused and proactive. In my reporting for my books about finding work after 50 (like Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies), I’ve found that these kinds of job clubs improve the success rate of older workers landing jobs.

Specialized Training for Job Hunters

A.B.L.E. also offers training courses for particular fields, which is very smart. For example, its 12-week medical office and customer service training program trains students in medical terminology, regulatory information affecting the health care industry and medical office procedures and administration, as well as customer service and communication skills. This program prepares participants for jobs such as patient service coordinator and medical office administrator. Students in the program get assigned to a six-week internship.

Having career centers and job-search training for older workers is essential, but hard to find in many communities. And the problem may deepen with potential Trump administration budget cutbacks in federal funding for programs like the Senior Community Service Employment Program. Authorized by The Older Americans Act, the program provides training for low-income, unemployed older Americans.

Core skills education is fundamental, and there’s a dearth of outlets aimed at older adults who are trying to stay one step ahead in their careers — whether they’re on the job hunt or simply want to keep the job they have and not be passed over for promotions and assignments.

I hope more places like A.B.L.E. will make them able to.

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By Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among other publications. She is the author of a dozen books including Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single WomenGreat Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy...and Pays the Bills, Getting the Job You Want After 50, Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness and What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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