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Elderly workforce expected to grow

For many working adults, the idea of retiring at 65 is no longer a reality.

More than a quarter of men and 16 percent of women living in Connecticut who are over 65 are working, which gives Connecticut the fifth-oldest workforce in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Over the past two decades, the number of U.S. workers over 65 has increased by about 4 percent, but the Census projects that the over-65 workforce will increase by more than 67 percent from 2015 to 2040.

“People want to continue to work,” said Jennifer Gorman, a field representative for the Connecticut Department of Aging. “Most of it is financial need, but some people want to remain active and don’t want to retire.”

Beginning with the Older Americans Act, passed by Congress in 1965, a number of resources aimed at helping seniors find employment have been established.

With the number of U.S. residents over the age of 65 expected to double by 2030, the elderly workforce will likely continue its growth. But with often poor health and lack of needed computer skills, the transition may not be easy for some, aging experts say.

In 2012, Connecticut’s Ready to Work program for adults over 55 — established as part of the Older Americans Act — prepared nearly 500 people for employment and every year the program’s waitlist grows, said Gorman.

Individuals accepted to the program first meet with a counselor to discuss their skills and aspirations and then sign up for relevant training and development courses. Participants are subsequently placed with a nonprofit for four months of work at minimum wage for about 20 hours a week.

After the training is done, participants in the program are responsible for seeking out their next job. Some will work for another minimum wage job, while others will find new careers in medicine and real estate. Several have also started their own businesses.

About 47 percent of participants have found employment through the program, Gorman said.

“We’re getting people jobs,” Gorman said. “We’re not getting everyone a job, but as many people as we can and I think the need is certainly growing.”

Apart from the state program, few other job training programs specifically aimed at seniors exist in Connecticut. The WorkPlace Inc., a Bridgeport-based nonprofit that specializes in workforce development, currently has a program targeting adults over 50.

However, the program, which included 16 participants, was funded as part of a one-time grant from AARP and is expected to end in May. A spokesman for The WorkPlace said interested participants could seek assistance through the agency’s standard programming, which includes the renowned Platform to Employment program.

On the education front, colleges are preparing themselves.

Norwalk Community College (NCC) recently announced its participation in a national effort, with 16 other community colleges, to train 10,000 baby boomers for new careers by 2015.

Sponsored by the American Association of Community Colleges, the Plus 50 program will focus on training adults over 50 years old and placing them in local businesses that have agreed to hire older workers.

“There are lots of people who are over 50 but under the age to receive social security,” said Gail Howard, NCC director of cooperative education. “(They’re) people who are willing to learn more skills and want to get into the workforce. And we ought to provide a pathway for them to do it.”

NCC’s programs will focus on training for careers in health care, human services and education, which Howard said are where the jobs are. Some programs will last a month while others will require multiple years.

“Baby boomers who are thinking about a career change are attracted to fields where they can make a difference in their community,” Howard said. “Anyone who feels they need new skills and want to get back into the workforce is welcome.”


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