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Older Workers, Please Apply

Vita Needle factory embraces age-friendly policies

Rosa Finnegan working at Vita Needle company primarily composed of senior citizens.

Rosa Finnegan, 99, is Vita Needle's oldest worker. The fifth-generation family-owned company has a workforce primarily composed of older employees. — Photo by: Sandy Hooper/Aurora Select

Cross-training

Employing septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians means it's not always business as usual, however. "As an operations manager running production, it's challenging," says Michael LaRosa, 52. "You have to do a lot of cross-training, since older people don't just get colds and stay out of work for a day; they fall down or break their hip and are out for three months." It may be extra work for LaRosa, but employees like learning different skills.

"It's wonderful! There are so many things I am trained to do I can't get bored," says Finnegan, who last year at this time was in a nursing home for a month with nerve damage in her feet but now hitches a ride every day with a coworker to her 25-hour-a-week, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. job. "If I'm sick of doing one thing, they give me something else."

Employees wind up at the dance-hall-turned-factory mostly through word of mouth, although the business sometimes recruits at senior centers and in local newspapers. Vita's ads stress the diversity of tasks and flexible scheduling — one worker may choose to clock in at 5 a.m., another at 2 p.m. For now, the suburban company has stacks of applicants and little attrition.

It wasn't always the case. In the 1980s and 1990s, Vita needed to expand, but there was a labor shortage. The only applicants were middle-age and older retirees. So the company decided to give it a shot. Management immediately recognized their work ethic, enthusiasm and excellent results. For three-quarters of employees, the factory job is their second career. The company has hired an eclectic mix: an engineer, circus performer, assembly line operator and waitress (Finnegan's former profession).

Next: Workers won't lose their jobs here. >>

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