November 23, 2007
Mature workers find opportunities
Times Snohomish County Bureau
GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Out of work at age 63, Michelle Hartman found herself on the wrong side of the digital divide, able to use a computer to search the Internet but not much else.
After enrolling in a series of free computer classes offered by the WorkSource of Seattle-King County, she successfully mastered Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access, Microsoft's office software.
Hartman so impressed a prospective employer that they offered her $4 an hour more than they'd planned to pay for an administrative assistant. It was a big step up for someone who previously had a data-entry job.
"A whole new world opened up for me," she said of the four computer classes. "It gave me confidence that I could re-enter the work force."
Many older adults are choosing to work beyond retirement age.
Others say they need to work to build up retirement funds, put children through college, or in the case of women who were out of the work force while raising families, add to their Social Security.
WorkSource: Offers a variety of job-preparedness workshops that are open to the public and free of charge. In King County, go to www.worksourceskc.org and in Snohomish County go to www.worksourceonline.com
Seattle Mayor's Office: The next Age 552 Job Search Workshop is Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to noon in the Central Building, 810 Third Ave., Suite 150, Seattle. It's sponsored by the Seattle Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens. For more information, go to: www.cityofseattle.net/humanservices/mosc/ and click on "Age 553 Employment Resource Center." There also is a workshop Nov. 15.
AARP Foundation: Senior Community Service Employment Program, 655 S. Orcas St., Suite 207, Seattle. 206-624-6698.
But many older adults may be unfamiliar with technology, or have such rudimentary knowledge of computers, that they need help. Even those out of the work force for only a few years may find their skills dated, said Kris Stadelman, CEO of the Seattle-King County Workforce Development Council.
"Workplace skills are changing so rapidly today, you can't just get educated once anymore," she said.
Backing of agencies
Several local agencies offer computer-skills training for mature job seekers, including the Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens in Seattle.
But the largest program in Washington may be the Unlimited Potential courses offered through WorkSource and underwritten by Microsoft, which has taken the program around the world.
"As we looked at where we could make the biggest impact with our resources, a recurring issue was the segments of society that have no access to computer skills training," said Pamela Passman, Vice President of Global Corporate Affairs for Microsoft.
Don Wood, 60, of Federal Way, found himself out of work when his employer of 32 years, United Airlines, laid off thousands of employees and dissolved their pension plans.
Wood, who worked most recently as a flight attendant, said he had only a basic knowledge of computers, but as he went through job listings, quickly found that many required familiarity with office software programs. Initially he wondered if he could master the new skills, but said he found the classes reassuring.
"It was not at all intimidating. The teachers were great and were glad to work with anyone who might be fearful. There was such a cross-section of people with all abilities," he said.
Doug McCullough, employment specialist for the AARP Foundation in Seattle, said some employers may be wary of hiring older workers, fearing that their skills are outdated or that they will miss work because of health concerns.
McCullough said older workers, however, actually miss fewer days than younger workers, and bring to their jobs high degrees of responsibility and dependability.
And for employers who still have questions about qualifications, the Unlimited Potential computer-skills classes award certificates of proficiency to students who successfully complete the tutorials on each of the four software programs.
Brushing up on skills
Mary Weber, 51, of Fairwood, near Renton, had worked as an administrative assistant. But after she was unemployed for 14 months, worried that her computer skills were outdated.
She said the Unlimited Potential classes allowed her to work at her own pace. When Weber completed the classes and started looking for work, she received five job offers.
She accepted one with Barghausen Consulting Engineers in Kent, selling herself in the interview because she was confident in her abilities.
"They looked at my skills, regardless of age," she said. "Not everyone does."
Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or email@example.com
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