For once, Matt Ash’s timing was perfect.
The 57-year-old unemployed father of four had been keeping his eye on the newspapers for job opportunities when he noticed that most of the ads were for truck drivers.
Trucking, however, wasn’t exactly in his wheelhouse. He had worked as a computer programmer for 27 years, helping banking institutions merge their data systems with newly acquired banks. This was before the banking industry nearly collapsed in 2007, which left him having to piece together new sources of income.
Eventually, he cashed out his retirement funds and rolled them into a new venture. He was in the midst of launching his own home-remodeling business when the housing market crashed. “My father worked in home building, so that was something I’d always liked to do,” he said. “I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t find enough work to keep things going.”
In fact, some months he couldn’t find enough work to keep the lights on.
“I was borrowing from my equity line to pay my equity line,” he chuckled. “You can only do that for so long. I was at the point where I needed to file for bankruptcy or something.”
As Matt was reading the paper over lunch one day, he spotted a new ad – one for AARP Foundation’s Back to Work 50+ career retraining and coaching program at Bevill State Community College in Sumiton, Ala.
See Also: BACK TO WORK 50+
He arrived at the orientation session in December 2014, but because of a typo in the ad, he nearly missed the opportunity altogether. “When I got to the meeting, it was almost over,” he said. “Luckily, I got there just in time. Then it turns out I qualified for an AARP Foundation program to pay for my training.”
The program offered three new full-time career paths to choose from, including truck driving and computer programming. The choice was easy for him. “I sort of figured, with computer programming, I’ve been there, done that. Truck driving seemed to be an area that needed people.”
The six-week truck driver training program would have cost him about $1,600, not including the fees for licensing, the physical and drug tests – all of which were paid for by AARP Foundation’s Back to Work 50+ grant program.
The experience opened Matt’s eyes to the charitable work that AARP has been funding for years through AARP Foundation and its related programs. “I was impressed,” Matt told us one evening, while getting ready for his overnight drive. “Yeah, I knew what AARP was … but I just thought it was something to do with being over 50.”
Matt’s days – and especially his nights – look nothing like they did when he was a programmer. Back then, he would sometimes spend as many as two weeks at a time working in a cubicle at a client site far from his family. Now his deliveries to grocery stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee usually take him away from home for just 11 or 12 hours, with very rare overnight layovers.
And the mental peace he enjoys is priceless, including time to think and listen to the radio as his headlight beams search for the next curve in the road.
“It’s not as mind-boggling as programming, and you’re not in a cubicle all day,” he said. “We leave in the middle of the night – midnight to 3 a.m. You’re on your own once you leave the warehouse. You’re just out driving. You’re out and about.”
It’s not perfect, he admits, but it is a huge improvement from his previous situation. He works about 35 hours a week, with the potential to work more as he moves up in seniority among the drivers.
At $19 an hour, it’s half of what he made as a programmer. But it’s $19 more an hour than he was making as a homebuilder in the housing recession.
In fact, he’s still trying to dig himself out of the hole created by that business. All but one child has grown up and moved out, and he’s liquidating his business equipment and property while juggling his long driving shifts.
“I’m still struggling, but the light at the end of tunnel is a lot brighter now,” he said.
Matt’s story and AARP Foundation BACK TO WORK 50+ were featured recently in a local Alabama newspaper.