The five-week program covers job-searching skills and strategies from soup to nuts. After psychological and skills assessment tests, participants receive intensive training in how to find a job in today's economy. This includes identifying their strengths and weaknesses to see what other kinds of jobs would fit them, résumé-building (or, for many, résumé-shortening), training in how to use social media, and some cross-generational teaching about the different mores of the boomers compared to Generations X and Y and the millennials.
"People over 50 definitely see things differently," says the group's instructor, Harrison Tonne. "For example, my generation sees no problem with texting during a meeting. But to them, it's rude. They want to know why they can't just ask them to put their phones away," he says.
Social worker James Rascati helps the group figure out their finances, deal with their families and confront the emotional devastation that hits most previously successful older people when they've been out of work for two years.
"When they start Platform to Employment, most people 50-plus have been waylaid by a combination of maturity, desperation and hopelessness," says Rascati. "Some are committing economic suicide. Divorces are common and so are foreclosures. At the same time, job interviews of any kind have been few and far between. Then their families tell them they're not trying hard enough."
Being out of a job makes people equal very quickly, whether they were shop workers or executives. It didn't take long before the Platform to Employment 50+ participants began to bond, and the sense of desperation most wrestled with began to disappear. They realized they were not alone in their feelings, especially depression.
For each member, the group acts as a cross between a cheerleader and an enforcer. People take turns having mock interviews with each other, while the rest offer encouragement and suggestions. Those who have follow-up phone calls to make often do it at The WorkPlace, because it's easier to make these calls — usually unsolicited — when you know your friends have your back. By the time the five weeks end, most are fast friends who regularly meet at the Job Club at The WorkPlace.
The holistic approach of Platform to Employment provides the support many 99ers need to restart and rebuild their working lives. Some do land jobs soon after completing the program. Others take advantage of a unique aspect of the program: the opportunity to interview for an eight-week job trial with a participating employer.
Funded solely by nonprofit grants and donations, The WorkPlace offers employers eight weeks of an employee's time for free. (The WorkPlace, rather than the company, pays the employee.) Once the job trial is up, the hope and expectation is the workers will have demonstrated their worth to the employer, which will hire them directly.
In the Platform to Employment for the 50+ group that includes John and Karen, 13 people out of the 20 now have new jobs, and others are close. Karen accepted a job as a sales manager for a national nonprofit organization in June. "I changed my attitude — being unemployed can do that to you," she says. "I don't think I settled for too little or that it's a reflection on me to take a job for half of what I earned before," she says. "I know I can live on less. Now, to me the most important thing is to have a job that I take pride in — and to have a job to go to every morning."
As for John, he's still looking and still working part time, but he's given up his weekend job selling shoes. "This is my last best chance to have a successful life, to create what I need to create for myself and my family. I need to spend more time on finding a job," he says. "You know, not one of us in our group ever thought that we'd be unemployed for so long, and the longer you go without work, the worse it gets. But thanks to The WorkPlace, I'm a lot better off in my job search than I was six months ago."
Becky Squires is a writer-editor for the AARP Foundation.
Also of interest: ElderWatch protects seniors from fraud. »