Sgt. Debbie Riccobono is looking for corrections officers. Don’t rule yourself out.
“The misconception is that you have to be big, bad and strong,” she said. “We look for communicators, problem solvers. Part of the job is to teach life skills so prisoners don’t come back.”
Riccobono said the Department of Corrections is glad to consider people over 50 for jobs that start at $15 to $19 an hour. One caveat: All applicants have to be able to run 1.5 miles at a moderate pace.
She was one of 26 employers at a recent AARP career expo in Phoenix. Another was Glen B. Delander of Apartment & Home Solutions, who is hiring people with real estate licenses to locate rental properties and help renters find apartments. He values experience. “I have an office of 12 agents, all 40 and over. You give them a task and it’s done,” Delander said. “They suit up and show up.”
Times are tough. The number of Arizonans age 45 and older who filed for unemployment in early 2009 was more than three times higher than two years ago. The largest group is those 45 to 54.
Arizona’s jobless rate of 7.8 percent in March ranked in the middle of U.S. states, but the state was dead-last in job growth.
Maria Ramirez-Trillo, project director of the AARP Foundation WorkSearch program in Arizona, has been helping people find jobs for 25 years, and she can’t remember a tougher year. For those 50 and older, she said, finding a job comparable to the one lost can take up to a year.
Her office sponsored a meeting in December to help job seekers. She expected 20 people; a crowd of 150 showed up, becoming impatient and unruly. Ramirez-Trillo chalked it up to stress.
“It’s easy to get frustrated in this job market,” she said. “Lots of people come through the door who are lost. We are telling them to use all their resources and all their networking. I tell them not to give up.”
Thinking creatively about a next career is the focus of a new crop of community college programs.
Chandler-Gilbert Community College offers 12-week classes in the retirement community of Sun Lakes, training people to be assistants for pharmacists, physical therapists, chiropractors and dialysis centers. Some students are trying to replace careers that lasted 20 and 30 years. Others are trying to supplement retirement incomes.
Glendale Community College is hosting focus groups with employers to develop a new program to retrain older workers. Jennifer McNett, corporate services manager for Federated Mutual Insurance Co. in Phoenix, is one of those who participated. A few years ago, companies like hers were worried about having enough workers as boomers retired. But the recession has turned that concept on its head, she said.
Her advice: “Don’t wait for an ad. If you have a company in mind that you'd like to work for, get a referral from someone who already works there.”
By fall, all Maricopa District community colleges will have the AARP Foundation WorkSearch computer tool, which includes skill assessments, online courses and study guides. It’s available now at Rio Salado College and at four AARP sites in Maricopa County. Once you’ve been trained on WorkSearch, you can access the program and its tools from your home computer.
“The goal is to help 50-plus workers with informed choices regarding their employment interests and options,” said David Mitchell, Arizona AARP director.
Maureen West is a Phoenix-based writer.