Program aims to help older workers get jobs
By RUTH CAMPBELL
By RUTH CAMPBELL
A combination of the economic crunch, disappearing 401K's and more people living longer and in better health means more potential employees in the workforce.
The Older Kansans' Employment Program, provided by SouthWest Kansas Area Agency on Aging, in conjunction with KansasWorks, gives workers 55 and older a chance to find full- or part-time positions.
OKEP Coordinator Lyle Dotson has been in his job since April. He's based in Dodge City, but travels to Garden City on Tuesdays and Great Bend on Thursdays to help clients work up rÃ©sumÃ©s, cover letters and search the Internet for jobs. Dotson also tells potential employees what to expect from interviews and how to dress when they go for one.
"I go out and make calls on various employers to tell them about the program and get permission to send potential employees out there (to local businesses) for interviews," Dotson said. This is getting more difficult because many businesses want potential employees to apply online.
"Older people are not as computer savvy as the younger generation," Dotson said in an interview at the Garden City KansasWorks office. However, he said, they may be 10 times more qualified for a position. But when clients come in to the KansasWorks center, Dotson can set them up at a computer station and work with them on their rÃ©sumÃ©s and applications. The rÃ©sumÃ©s will stay on file.
OKEP, which is a free service of the SouthWest Kansas Area Agency on Aging, assists those 55 and older to find employment. In addition to rÃ©sumÃ©s and job searches, the program serves the 28 counties in southwest Kansas with cover letters, pre-interview counseling, providing job listings through networking and weekly job clubs that meet Tuesday mornings in Garden City.
His customers, as he calls them, are looking for a combination of full and part-time jobs.
"A lot depends on the age of the person and their financial status. Most of the people I deal with are looking for part-time, but probably 35 to 40 percent are looking for full-time," Dotson said.
When he's in town, he visits businesses to see what their needs might be, and they have been "very open and helpful" with the program, although he often doesn't hear back from people he's tried to help as to whether they've found a job. Dotson said if he gets a negative comment from an employer, such as they need someone who's fast, Dotson tells them the older person may be slower, but they get the job done right the first time.
"They are the most level-headed. If they have an irate customer, they can handle them because of their experience, without making the customer more upset," Dotson said.
Additionally, older workers can reduce turnover, be mentors to younger workers, are productive and generally require less supervision, among other qualities, according to an OKEP pamphlet.
Carol Nuzum at Lewis Motors said the dealership and several others in Garden City use five older workers to deliver parts or move individual cars.
"I don't know what the dealerships would do without the old retired guys. It gives them a little bit of socialization, spending money and something to do," Nuzum said.
But they're also a benefit to the dealerships.
"They're reliable. Most of them know if we're going to send them to Perryton, Texas, they know where Perryton, Texas, is," she said.
Ads have been placed in The Garden City Telegram, Dodge City Globe and Great Bend Tribune to let people know about OKEP and that Dotson is there for older workers.
"We do have someone taking care of this position all the time, so they know I'm going to be here when I'm supposed to be here," he said.
In Kansas, there are 111,809 households with people 65 and older. The number of grandparents living with grandchildren younger than 18 is 44,246, according to information from the 2010 U.S. census provided by Linda Koci, Workforce Development executive coordinator at the KansasWorks office in Hays.
In Garden City and Finney County, there are 1,755 households with people 65 and older and 896 grandparents living with grandchildren younger than 18. The median age in Garden City/Finney County is 29.9, and there are 1,185 people age 65 to 74, 658 age 75 to 84 and 383 age 85 and older.
In the first quarter of 2012, the most recent figures available, 857 people age 65 to 99 were employed in Finney County. For the previous three quarters in Finney County, 870 people age 65 to 99 were employed.
For the first quarter of 2012 in Kansas, 63,724 people age 65 to 99 were employed in the state, and for all quarters, 62,043.
Dotson said he's able to relate to his client base because he's like them. He worked for Gibson Discount Centers for 35 years, first as a store manager and then as a buyer.
"I've lived in Dodge City since '88, when I became a buyer," he said.
After Gibson's folded, he ran a warehouse for the now-defunct Farm and Fleet chain in Scottsbluff, Neb. He retired for two and a half to three years before he took the OKEP job.
"The one thing I feel I bring to the table is I'm these people's age. I know where they're coming from. I know the obstacles that they're facing," Dotson said.
Dotson said OKEP works hand in hand with KansasWorks, which deals mainly with people who are "highly employable." Most people who are 65, 70 or 75 are not considered in that category.
"I take the workload off them," he said.
Jean Dizmang, workforce services supervisor for the Kansas Department of Commerce, said Dotson has been helpful because, being a senior himself, he can relate to older workers. She said it's similar to the office's veterans' representatives. The KansasWorks representatives can help veterans, but veterans may prefer to talk to a peer.
"He's (Dotson) able to come into this office and other area offices to help with employment specifically for people 55 and older," Dizmang said.
For more information, contact Dotson at (620) 225-8230.