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Older job seekers face challenges

A new study out by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College calls older job seekers “the new unemployables.”

But many of the findings in the report are just a confirmation of what many of us already knew: If you’re over 55 and looking for work, you’ve got some extra hurdles to overcome.

I have a friend who is in her late 50s and has been unemployed now for almost two years. This is a woman who has worked every day since college graduation at mid-level management positions. When she was laid off nearly two years ago, she worried but figured if she worked hard and employed all the right strategies, she would soon find a new position.

Now she is facing the end of her unemployment benefits with no job in sight, although she has applied for hundreds -- maybe thousands now -- and had a number of promising interviews.

My friend is one of the four in 10 job seekers considered “long-term unemployed.” The average period of unemployment for people 55 and over is 40.6 weeks -- 10 months -- compared to 31.6 weeks for younger job seekers, according to the study.

You can probably guess the reasons for the plight of the older worker.

Age discrimination is one. Gray hair and wrinkles often aren’t conducive to getting hired, especially when employers can choose from other applicants half their age.

John Randall knows all about it. As the project director for a program run by AARP to employ older, lower-income people, he sees it every day.

“Older workers are a challenge. People think 55 and older individuals don’t have enough time in front of them,” he said. “I hate that idea.”

But Randall, 75, doesn’t let that attitude discourage him. That’s because he knows and believes deeply in all the advantages that an older worker can offer.

“They’re reliable, they’ve learned to deal with what a job requires, they’re happier workers, they’ve learned the value of work,” he said.

His determination to sell these traits to employers has translated into a better than 50 percent placement rate for 55 and older job seekers.

He admits -- and the study agrees -- that older workers have some work ahead of them when they begin searching for a new job. Randall says it’s oftentimes an attitude adjustment.

“They can’t expect they are going to get the same type of job they used to have,” he said. “Jobs are not what they used to be, even for people in their late 20s or early 30s.”

Readjusting their expectations about the job and, yes, the salary is important. He knows from personal experience.

When he had open heart surgery 12 years ago, he was out of work for a while. “When I got ready to go back to work I had to readjust my thinking,” he said.

He, unlike many older workers, went back for training. The study found that only 12 percent of the older workers had taken education or training courses, compared to 20 percent of younger workers.

“You have to redefine your goals and expectations and get skills you need,” Randall says.