After working in human resources and managing a call center, Jill Drummond lost her job three years ago. As a result, she lost her home and moved in with her parents in Eugene. "If I didn't have this place, I'd be homeless," she said.
Looking for a job has not been as easy. "There are young kids interviewing me, and they tell me I'm antiquated," said Drummond.
More than a hundred applications and dozens of interviews later, Drummond, 51, finally sees hope on the horizon.
She was accepted into an eight-week training program — the PLUS+ Project (PDF) — aimed at helping job seekers age 50 and older. "My skills are a little rusty," Drummond said. "But I'm willing to work hard and take any constructive criticism to improve." She is scheduled to complete her training on May 25.
The Lane Workforce Partnership, a business-led workforce development organization, is coordinating the program in partnership with Goodwill Industries and Lane Community College (LCC). AARP Foundation provided a $200,000 grant to finance the program's first two years.
The program trains older unemployed people for call center jobs. Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Royal Caribbean International have call centers in Lane County and have agreed to interview candidates who successfully complete the training program. Both companies are currently hiring about 20 employees a month and are looking for qualified workers.
Free program is competitive
Kristina Payne, workforce investment manager with the Lane Workforce Partnership, said the program is free but competitive. The five training sessions are limited to 20 people.
Lane County has been hit hard in the recession, with an unemployment rate over 9 percent for most of the last three years. In 2011, almost 9,800 people 50 and older claimed unemployment benefits in the county.
"The need to help older workers has never been greater," said Joyce DeMonnin, AARP Oregon outreach director. "Once out of the workforce, they stay unemployed longer than other workers. Lane County has had some job losses that have been especially tough on mature workers."
Anne Guthrie, job connections coordinator with Goodwill Industries of Lane and South Coast counties, said it's hard for older workers to get back into the labor force. Many are facing lower-paying jobs after decades-long careers; others must learn or polish skills to meet the current needs of employers.
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"From what I see right now, we're not going to have a shortage of participants," Guthrie said. "This program is built to get people back to work as quickly as possible with a new set of in-demand skills that employers in the community eagerly seek."
The PLUS+ Project aims to teach more than just job skills. The training also addresses how to ensure personal financial security. Participants will learn about money management, debt reduction, savings and investments, and long-term career planning. When taken all together, Guthrie said, it's more like life planning than short-term job training.
Dawn DeWolf, dean of workforce development for LCC, said those interested in the classes need to attend an orientation session. To qualify for the program, a candidate must meet certain prerequisites like having a pleasant telephone manner, customer service and marketing skills, and being able to type 35 words per minute.
The program aims to improve those skill levels. For example, those typing 35 wpm will be expected to increase to 65 wpm. In addition, attendees will learn how to provide telephone customer service while working on a computer at the same time.
"If someone is interested in the training who does not qualify, we will get them prepared and help them go through the process," DeWolf said.
Andrew Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Tualatin, Ore.
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