By Deborah M. Walker
On December 17, 2014 15 older workers from Ingham County got a second chance at the job market. Receiving their certificate as Customer Service Representatives these 15 graduates embarked on a 9 week journey to update their skills and reenter the workforce.
Andrea Bridgewater, State Program Manager for Experience Works, said this program is great for persons 55 and older who are looking to gain skills in a field relevant to this economy.
“It will get them certified in an area where employers are hiring,” said Bridgewater.
The Blended Learning Training Program sponsored by Experience Works, offers a unique training program tailored for individuals 55 and older said Bridgewater. Graduates underwent customer service training using online instructors.
“It takes a variety of different learning methods and blends them together specifically for persons who are 55 and older who are in the Senior Community Service Employment Program,” said Bridgewater.
The use of a computer was especially helpful for Dories Harries, The Blended Learning Training Program Customer Service graduate. Harris said before the program she had no computer skills. Now Harris said she is computer literate and feels confident using her new skills while searching for a job.
“Back in my day you could just walk in and fill out an application. Right now when you apply for a job you have to go on the computer. They got us comfortable enough to the point that we do develop confidence in ourselves in order to do that,” said Harris.
In addition to gaining new computer skills Bridgewater said graduates receive additional support as well as mentoring. This extra assistance helps graduates overcome obstacles they may face while in search of their next job.
“There is also a peer mentoring component as well as staff mentoring and a workforce reentry component that require students to attend weekly job clubs… They learn resume techniques, interview techniques and how to handle cover letters,” said Bridgewater.
Harris said she appreciated the additional support especially the peer support and benefited from knowing her struggle was not one of a kind. Being out of the work force for over 2 years had left Harris feeling isolated. Peer support let her know she was not alone.
“Getting to know that you are not the only one that’s going through this; there are other people that are going through this. We kind of feed off one another and that was a good feeling,” said Harris.
Bridgewater said she understood the dilemma Harris and other workers encountered while searching for a job. In some aspects it is difficult for older workers to find employment in other ways it is not said Bridgewater.
“Older workers tend to be very loyal and plan on staying at their careers a long time and so in that aspect it’s very good. On the other end sometimes they need to have some reassurance and some confidence building because usually they are unemployed longer than a young person,” said Harris.
Being out of work can not only damper job skills it can lead to financial hardships and even homelessness informed George Gray, The Blended Learning Training Customer Service Representative graduate.
Out of work for 5 years Gray found himself not only out of a job but out of a place to stay as well. It was while living at Volunteers of America that George was referred to the program and his luck began to change.
Gray had done healthcare work in the past and has even undergone other job training programs, however according to Gray none has given him the skills found at The Blended Learning Training Program.
“I had been through a job club but they hadn’t really gone into the depth that they had in this class,” said Gray.
Harris can relate. According to Harris her unemployment had run out and she had no additional job leads. This was a terrifying experience for Harris who said she had always been independent.
“I’ve always had a job. I’ve always have been able to support myself. It got to the point that my unemployment ran out. I had no connections for a job. I got scared. At the age of 60 at the time starting all over again was not a good feeling,” said Harris.
Bridgewater said the program is aimed at helping people like Gray and Harris. In addition to having age and residency restrictions (the program is only available to those living in Ingham County), participants must live at least 125 percent below the poverty level. This ensures those who need it most get the help they deserve.
Bridgewater said there is a demand for more programs like The Blended Learning Training Program.
“We have 15 people in the greater Lansing area that signed up for the program but across the state just on an informal survey I had more than 50 individuals that want to attend this training. Employers are hiring in this area so it is definitely something needed,” said Bridgewater.
There is no age limit for participants. Anyone who is age 55 and older and enrolled in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) can apply informed Bridgewater.
“Across the state of Michigan we have individuals as old as 93 years old in our program. Actually in this program and this class that’s graduating tomorrow we have a person that is 70 years old,” said Bridgewater.
Bridgewater said customer service is a great skill to have. Not only are employers looking for candidates with customer service skills, this is a low impact job virtually anyone can do explains Bridgewater.
“Spherion Staffing, Peckham Industries and Consumers Energy are hiring alone in the Ingham county area. Any positions and any job requires someone to have customer service skills,” said Bridgewater.
“And customer service representatives, a lot of times, are working in call centers and it’s a great position that’s not physically demanding and so it’s sometimes a great new career for someone who may have had a position that they can no longer do,” said Bridgewater.
Following graduation Experience Works sponsored a job fair where graduates could come face to face with employers. Bridgewater said those who did not find employment from the job fair need not worry; Experience Works will continue to offer assistance with finding employment.
“We will work with them with job development and activities. We will refer them out to Michigan Works offices. We will do everything in our power to assist them,” said Bridgewater.
“So if they don’t find employment at the job fair tomorrow that does not mean we are done with them. We plan on working with them until they find employment,” said Bridgewater.
Bridgewater said graduates will receive assistance with filling out job applications, resume building, cover letters and “thank you” letters. Graduates can also undergo mock interviewing to brush up on interviewing skills. As an added surprise graduates were also given a laptop to assist with job searching following graduation.
Bridgewater said there are plans to sponsor other Blended Learning Training Programs in the near future. According to Bridgewater there are plans to get another class going in Ingham County before June 30, 2015.
For more information about Experience Works or the Blended Learning Training Program call Andrea Bridgewater at 989-891-7267 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was printed in the December 28, 2014 - January 10, 2015 edition.