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Employers Want Older Workers

They’re experienced, nurturing and patient.

Yvonne Tisdel is looking for older workers, and the reason is simple.

“They’re experienced, they’re nurturing, they’re patient,” she said.

During a recession, when jobs are hard to come by, Tisdel’s words offer some encouragement to over-50 workers who find themselves unemployed, perhaps for the first time in many years.

She is vice president for human resources at SSM Health Care, which employs nearly 24,000 people in four states—about half of those in St. Louis. Health care is one of the few bright spots in a labor picture that has dimmed in Missouri, which reported 8.7 percent unemployment in March, the highest in 25 years.

SSM is actively recruiting older workers, particularly for jobs like nursing, which have serious shortages.

“We’re not doing widgets,” Tisdel said. “Patient care is hands-on. Every patient is different. … We value the experience that older nurses have.”

To attract older workers, SSM also offers special benefits, such as flexible schedules for workers who may be helping raise grandchildren and insurance programs that can cover those children.

SSM is also seeing more applicants from fields such as accounting, banking and information technology, people who might not have considered health care before. Older workers have other advantages, she said, such as mentoring and motivating younger people.

The expanding number of older unemployed workers is obvious to other recruiters, including job specialists at AARP offices in St. Louis and Kansas City.

“We’re seeing a greater variety of people looking for work; folks who have a significant amount of experience and have been laid off, people with higher degrees of education,” said Lisa Bishop, project director for the St. Louis County office of AARP Foundation WorkSearch, a computerized job service. The office also runs the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which offers low-income workers training and community service jobs.

Her counterpart in Kansas City, Rebecca Olson, said she is having better luck placing people with small businesses rather than large companies. “They will say, ‘I need somebody I can depend on,’ ” Olson said.

Still, the recession is not helping matters.

Ray Burch, an AARP employment specialist in St. Louis City, is charged with knocking on doors of businesses in search of job openings. “I’m contacting people who want to help folks, but they’re laying off employees themselves,” said Burch, a retired car salesman.

So what’s a late-career worker to do? Take these tips from career counselors:

• Look where the jobs are. In addition to health care, other fields that showed job growth in Missouri over the past year include state and federal government, education and scientific/technical services.

• Make sure you are computer-literate. Get training if you need it. Ask your child or grandchild to help you navigate online applications and job searches.

• Modernize your resumé, and maybe your appearance too. Practice your interviewing skills. Employers today want to know how you would handle a crisis and whether you’re a team player. Resumés are shorter and action-oriented, rather than simply a list of jobs.

• Be persistent. Contact a wide range of potential employers and follow up.

• Don’t get discouraged. “Pray—and keep on truckin’,”   said Melvin Westbrook, a career counselor who was laid off in 2003 and now is an employment specialist at the WorkSearch office in St. Louis.

Tim Poor is a publications editor at Washington University in St. Louis.

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