Did you know that there are programs designed to give jobs to people our age? Neither did we… and neither did Chris Farrell, senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace. But Chris, the author of Unretirement: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life, found out, and wrote this piece for our friends at NextAvenue.org about two programs that specifically want older workers to fill their openings.
Gary Olson put in 32 years as an analytical chemist at Kodak in Rochester, New York, including stints in R&D and on digital innovations. “I had a great career there,” Olson says. “I was never bored.” But worn down by Kodak’s constant restructuring and layoffs, in January 2002, at 56, Olson took a generous buyout offer.
He and his wife moved to Seattle to be closer to their daughter and her family and Olson kicked back for a few years. In 2005, he spotted a Craigslist job posting by the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging for a “senior environmental employee” at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Senior Environmental Employment Program and position were reserved for workers 55 and older. Intrigued, he applied. “I wasn’t going to do what I did for more than 30 years,” says Olson. “I wanted to do something different.” He got the job.
Ever heard of the EPA’s Senior Environmental Employment Program, which has been around for 31 years? How about the comparable, seven-year-old Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture?
I hadn’t. These jobs are specifically designed to tap into the experience of boomers, yet not once in interviews for my Next Avenue column on job opportunities for people in their 50s and 60s did these programs or ones like them come up.
“Older workers are a largely untapped resource,” says Gregory Merrill, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Older Worker Career Center, an 18-year-old nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia. that operates the two programs mentioned. “What we find is boomers want to make a difference.” Merrill’s group has matched up hundreds of 55+ workers with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture around the country.
Lois Kohashi-Sinclair, who runs the two federal programs through her job at the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging in Seattle says, “A lot more people aren’t ready to go on the golf course and just hang it up. Boomers have a lot of strengths and knowledge.”
Enrollees receive a modest hourly wage — Olson started at $12.75 an hour, or about $27,000 for a 40-hour workweek — and many are eligible for benefits, such as health and dental insurance, paid holidays, vacation days and sick leave.
“This isn’t make-work,” says Merrill. “This is real stuff that has to be done.”
Randy Randall agrees. He’s a specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and state coordinator for the Conservation Experienced Services Program in Colorado. Randall currently has ten people in the program, part-time and full-time, many with a natural resource background. They earn an average some $20 an hour.
Randall emphasizes that the jobs offer participants flexibility while the agency gets a skilled asset. “We can work with older, seasoned workers and have them mentor our younger natural resource folks,” he says.
People like Gary Olson, who’s now 70, assists 39 Indian reservations in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, focusing on education and outreach to improve their air quality. He worked 40 hours a week until cutting back to 30 hours this year.
“I am working with people a lot younger than I am and they are willing to weigh my ideas, which is nice and sometimes they have better ideas and that is good,” he says. “Retirement really isn’t what people envision when they say the word. It’s the next phase and if blessed with reasonably good health it’s good to expand your horizons.” Merrill and Kohashi-Sinclair want to see this employment model expand into other government agencies (me too).
“People forget that there are many people who want to help make government better,” says Merrill. And they don’t need a “high-flying career,” adds Kohashi-Sinclair. She says: “A lot of people are looking for more passion in what they’re doing.”
If you’re looking for a job in your Unretirement, the federal government is worth exploring. For openings in the two EPA and Agriculture programs specifically for people 55+, visit the job-postings area of the NOWCC site.
To look broader, check out the Go Government site, a one-stop shop created by the Partnership for Public Service, a bipartisan nonprofit. You can also find leads at the USAJobs site. Just bear in mind that these sites aren’t limited to older workers, so you’ll have plenty of competition. Make your best case for yourself.