Commentary: Here’s how to create new pathways for unretirement success

Retirees returning to work thrive when they have support landing the right job.

 Veteran artist Sigfrido Benitez found help in today’s job market at the Lifelong Skills and Opportunity Center after visiting the Greenwich House Our Lady of Pompeii Older Adult Center in Manhattan’s West Village

Veteran artist Sigfrido Benitez found help in today’s job market at the Lifelong Skills and Opportunity Center after visiting the Greenwich House Our Lady of Pompeii Older Adult Center in Manhattan’s West Village (Tearanny Street)

For veteran artist Sigfrido Benitez, embarking on a new job was just one part of his post-retirement challenge. After retiring from a fulfilling career as a senior activities therapist at a medical facility, he balanced two part-time positions alongside his personal art practice and an active social life. However, he aspired to find part-time work that tapped into his artistic skills without reverting to the clinical setting, which meant venturing into an unfamiliar industry.

“I was faced with two challenges,” explained Benitez, a West Village resident whose practical experience was extensive but primarily concentrated in one specialized field. “Most employers willing to even consider adults 60+ were only listing jobs in general areas of focus, not anything specifically geared toward artists.”

Benitez’s breakthrough came during a visit to the Greenwich House Our Lady of Pompeii Older Adult Center, where he saw a flyer for an Open House at Greenwich House’s new Lifelong Skills and Opportunity Center. 

“This was the first time I saw anything advertised about older adults in the job market. I ran into the workforce director, and we talked at great length. She assessed me, filled out an application with my information, and enrolled me as a member,” he said. “It was like God's gift to me, that I learned about the center when I did.”

In 2022, Greenwich House introduced this first-of-its-kind career development and training model, focused on assisting New Yorkers who are out of work, including asylum seekers and individuals in recovery, with a notable portion of its clients being older adults like Sigfrido’s case, seeking to re-enter the workforce after significant gaps.

This trend isn't unique to New York City. Census data showed a spike in retirements among those 65 and older during the COVID pandemic, but the recent economic strain has seemingly reversed this, with many older seniors are returning to work.

Danette Hamilton, a workforce specialist who joined Greenwich House last year, noted, “Many older adults are looking to supplement their Social Security income which is barely enough to pay their rent. The little bit left over won't cover all their day-to-day living expenses and recreational activities, so they frequently express interest in part-time work, not necessarily full-time work.”

But while the average jobseeker faces enough challenges navigating today’s tumultuous employment market, age-based bias can present additional barriers for adults 60+ looking to reboot their careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that older job applicants are likely to remain unemployed longer than their younger counterparts. In a recent Washington Post article, Michael North, an assistant professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business even referred to age discrimination in hiring as “the most socially condoned prejudice.”

As a 15-year veteran of the workforce development field, Hamilton leads a weekly series of job readiness workshops focused on preparation techniques for employment success and provides individualized career counseling for clients like Sigfrido.

“When I visited the center, I needed to update my 3-page resume,” Benitez explained, elaborating on the extensive overhaul that culminated in a succinct one-page document. “Danette is well-versed in job market norms and its rapid changes. She understands the power of presentation. She helped me rewrite my bio and provided insight about what employers are looking for in a portfolio. Danette simplified the process for me, and it was extremely helpful.”

Hamilton emphasizes the older clients' readiness and ambition, noting, “We have a lot of older adults who come in and say ‘Listen, I can still work. Yes, I’m over 60. But look at me, I’m ready and able.’ Their vast experience is an asset, and we focus on bolstering their confidence through motivational coaching and practice interviews.”

She recognizes that returning to work after a lengthy hiatus can be daunting, especially with technological advancements. “I want the older adults to understand that the job search process has evolved from what it was 10 or 20 years ago. Understanding modern job searching and building a strong online presence are crucial,” Hamilton asserted, and who is actively developing new workshops to address these topics.

Before retiring, Benitez worked for the same employer for 21 years. “I didn’t know what to expect from other work settings. I knew that I needed to update a lot of my skills and wanted to be prepared when the right opportunity came along,” he said. While younger workers may be quicker to adopt new innovations and stay abreast of emerging trends, Hamilton finds that more mature candidates are far more adept at interpersonal communications and relationship-building. “Because they didn't grow up with the same email-based technologies as Gen Xers and Millennials, they're much better at retaining information and learning it,” Danette explained.

This proved true for Benitez, who was hired on the spot by the National Council of Jewish Women after having a mock interview session with Hamilton. “Now I'm teaching art classes at three different centers, and I designed a brand-new class starting next month,” he reported enthusiastically.

Still in this youth-obsessed employment market, many employers continually overlook the hidden talents of older adults and how they can enrich the customer service experience. A recent report by the Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University outlines the advantages of fostering an older workforce, pointing out how their presence conveys a sense of consistency, strong community ties, and well-seasoned expertise.

“Older adults thrive in retail environments and creative settings like art classes and museums as information specialists or tour guides, because it gives them an opportunity to forge connections and learn new things on the job.

With the world’s population of adults 60+ projected to double by 2050, it seems only logical for companies to rethink age-bias hiring practices that screen-out older applicants, shifting toward a more inclusive workforce model that celebrates the strengths of its mature workers.  At this point, all signs point to it being a question of when, not if.

Nathalie Levey is communications manager at Greenwich House.

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