PLEASANTON -- A small army of retired seniors is heading back into the workforce, and having to relearn everything they thought they knew about finding a job.
Whether to supplement meager retirement income or to find a meaningful social outlet, more workers than ever in the Valley and beyond are un-retiring and wondering what to do next.
"I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life," said one man at a Feb. 11 seminar at the Pleasanton Senior Center. "I have money, but I'll be spending it, and that will make me anxious. If I'm going to be working, I want it to be something that will make me feel good."
The seminar was hosted by Jack Kennedy, a former project director for the EASTBAY Works Senior Employment Program and a veteran of two decades working in community-based senior organizations. He now works in Danville as a marriage and family therapist.
"One obstacle for those who have been out of the workforce for over a year, and there are a lot of people who have been out for longer than that, is that they've lost touch with the network they were surrounded with in their working career," he said. "They find it hard to believe that networking is so valuable. Before, you'd knock on someone's door and there would be a job for you. Today, you're competing with so many people and many of them are younger. It presents a tremendous challenge."
Those in their 50s, 60s and 70s have plenty of company in their job search, said Stephen Baiter, executive director of the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County and director of that county's Senior Community Service Employment Program.
"A growing number of people are having a harder time making ends meet, and are being compelled to do some rather extraordinary things to simply find ways to meet household expenses and needs," he said.
"For one group, working is an economic necessity. For others, it's really about the intellectual, social and other stimulation that comes from work. People don't want to just hang it up at 60, 65 or 70 just because they're at an age when some think they shouldn't be working anymore."
The job market is improving for those with a high level of professional, scientific or technical skill, Baiter said, but the prospects are more challenging for those with lower and midrange skills, especially if they haven't kept pace with current developments.
Nevertheless, said Baiter and Kennedy, plenty of opportunity exists for older job-seekers willing to learn and with a basic knowledge of resources to help them navigate a brave new employment world.
Their suggestions include the following:
Be confident and don't assume you won't be hired because of your age.
"If you buy into that, you're doomed," Kennedy said. "What you bring is unique and valuable ... all the different experience you've had in life you bring to bear, and you shouldn't minimize that. You shouldn't accept that you can't get the same kind of job as a younger person if you want it."
Get on the computer and learn to manage email and Internet searches.
Ask a knowledgeable friend or family member to teach you the basics, or find a free course to get you started at the library, senior center or career center. "One of the ways the world has changed is that people need to be able to contact you," Kennedy said. "Having an email address gives you the ability to interact with people."
Network, network, network.
Tell friends, family and everyone else you're looking for work. Your Rotary buddies or church friends all have their own network of family and friends, one might have the lead you need. "This is incredibly important, and people miss this opportunity all the time because they don't want to bother people," Kennedy said. "I remind them that people, in general, want to help if they know you need help."
Get help with your resume.
Career center professionals will help you create a new resume for free, and give you important tips such as including key words to help your resume get noticed. "Typically we find people doing a litany of their job descriptions, then they compound the problem by identifying themselves as an older worker," Kennedy said. "You don't have to put the year you graduated from college and there's no need to go back typically more than 10 years."
Play to your abilities. "You don't want to be the person going out there and saying 'I'll do anything,' " Kennedy said. "Do what you feel is best for you given your personality, skill set and availability. As long as you're paying the rent and bills you have an opportunity to do this in a thoughtful way."
Check out these free employment and volunteer resources.
EASTBAY Works: www.eastbayworks.com; 866-329-6757
EASTBAY Works one-stop career centers:
Pleasanton: 5020 Franklin Drive, Pleasanton 925-485-5262
Concord: 4071 Port Chicago Highway, Suite 250, Concord. 925-646-5563
Other centers are in Alameda, Berkeley, Fremont, Hayward, Newark, Oakland, Antioch, Brentwood, San Pablo and Richmond.
Assets Senior Employment Opportunities Training Program