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For a new experience in retirement, try 'Experience Works!'

April 01, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

Goldie Wilson is a 61-year-old computer expert who spent years programming the devices that read the bar codes that tell the cashier just how much you owe for groceries or other merchandise.

But the New Yorker left that job behind recently when she retired and moved to Hagerstown to be near her daughter. But she was moved to re-enter the working world, she said, when she saw a notice on the back page of The Herald-Mail, advertising something called "Experience Works!"

It's a 36-year-old non-profit organization that helps train older workers for new job opportunities. It operates in Baltimore City and 11 Maryland counties, including Washington County, where it's headed up by Wendell L. Greene, a former human resources worker with Corning Glass and Citicorp.

For Wilson, the program has made it possible to work with students at the Washington County Job Development Center.

"I work basically with the kids up there, in their cooking class and wherever they need the help. I work about 20 hours a week," she said.

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"I thought, 'Now this is something I could do.' I really didn't want to get a full-time job," Wilson said.

Green explained that Wilson is one of a number of seniors the program has placed with non-profit agencies. While there, their salaries are paid by the agency in anticipation that they'll eventually get a job at that agency or another.

"You must be a resident of Washington County, be 55 years or older and meet certain income criteria," Green said, adding that training is available for those who need it.

Asked what sort of training clients typically need, Green said that "Older people, I'm finding, need computer skills. Some people might just need to develop their people skills, or their job-hunting skills."

"A lot of people just don't know how to go about funding work. And be it public or private sector, I talking to employers who are willing to work with us and who want workers are more mature and settled," he said.

Greene Works out of the Maryland Job Service office on Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown and his clients have access to all that state agency's services.

"I make sure they're signed up with the Job Service and I want to reach employers as well as people who are looking for jobs," he said.

Greene said he's seeking publicity now because as of Jan. 1, the organization changed its name from Green Thumb, Inc. Founded in 1965 to help with Lady Bird Johnson's beautification program, back then it employed retired farmers to use the skills they'd gained on the farm and their "green thumbs" to improve parks and roadside areas.

The program has grown beyond that since, and includes many training services and even a Web site - geezer.com - that provides a way for crafters and others to sell their wares on line.

With most people expected to change careers several times during their lifetime, it makes sense that most of us would need to upgrade our skills to make it possible to try something different.

Programs like this will also be of benefit to employers, because, according to the March issue of HR (Human Resources) Magazine, a shortage of entry-level workers in the late 1990s will result in a shortage of mid-level and executive personnel for at least the next 10 years.

This is good news for older workers, the magazine said, because many from the Baby Boom generation haven't saved as much as they'd like to for retirement. Sixty percent of those surveyed, HR Magazine said, plan to work at least part-time following their retirement.

The addition of more older employees to the workplace will require some changes, the magazine notes, but the upside is that thanks to better health care, nutrition and the knowledge that smoking a bad thing, older workers are healthier than ever.

In many cases, the magazine said, their years of experienhce can help them reacct more carefully to new challenges.

If you're interested in what Experience Works! has to offer, you can contact Greene at the Job Service office at 14 N. Potomac St., or by phone at (301) 393-8243.

Wilson says you won't be sorry.

"If a full-time job becomes available at the Job Development Center, I will apply. It's a great program," she said.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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