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Rebuilding a new career path

A tough economy or the chance to learn something has some starting new jobs

April 10, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Hal Mason, right, assists neighbor Doris Miller Wednesday on her new laptop computer. Mason does odd jobs for neighbors and takes online education in a medical-related field.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

When Hal Mason of Hagerstown retired from his job as an engineer assistant with Verizon in 2002, the only work he planned on doing was fixing things around the house.

He thought he had chosen the right time to move on to the next phase of his life, he said. He had enjoyed a successful career, his wife also had retired and their investments would enable them to live comfortably.

But then the economy began to sour and the Masons' nest egg cracked wide open.

"The economic downturn really hurt us," he said. "The stock market took a turn for the worse and so did our investments. I became very concerned for our future."

Now, Mason finds himself among a growing number of retirees looking for steady employment.

But at the age of 58, finding a job hasn't been easy.

"Prospects haven't been good," Mason said. "And I really feel that part of the problem is that I'm over 50. I hate to say it, but given the choice between me and someone in their 30s, many employers will lean toward the younger person."

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While finding a job in today's economy is tough on everyone, AARP reports it is particularly difficult for the older applicant.

Whether they were fired, laid off, victims of company closure or retirees, people older than 50 are facing a different set of challenges than their younger counterparts, the senior organization notes.

Older workers have to polish up on interviewing skills, rework outdated resumes and begin a job-hunting circuit they haven't traveled in decades. And, often, AARP reports, they're afraid that their rich pool of talents won't be recognized or appreciated by a younger employer.

That's why many people are being creative when it comes to securing a paycheck.

Starting again

When Mason retired, he decided to do substitute teaching for a day or two a week as a way to stay active and productive.

"I feel educating our youth is important and I thought this was a good match for me," he said.

He also does handyman jobs for people in his retirement community.

But when his investments began taking a beating, he knew it wouldn't be enough to supplement his retirement funds. So, after applying for jobs and getting no response, he is now taking online medical billing and coding courses through Hagerstown Community College, with the goal of landing a good-paying job.

After doing some research and talking with advisers at HCC, Mason said he is hopeful that he's on the right track to finding employment.

When Herm Giles of Hagerstown was laid off from his manufacturing job about three years ago, he began scouring the want ads, but all leads led to dead-ends.

"Things were getting bad, as far as finding work was concerned," he said. "And I was 53 years old. I felt I had reached an age where employers were looking for someone younger."

So he decided to create his own job. He started a lawn care business.

Giles, now 56, said he has found his niche and actually enjoys this work better than his manufacturing job.

"I'm outdoors, I'm not punching a clock and customers appreciate the work I do," he said.

Summer is his busiest period but he also did snow removal this past winter and with the snowy weather "did pretty well."

"It all worked out for the best," Giles said. "I really like being my own boss."

Using old skills

Jon Kovachic moved back to Hagerstown last September, after living in the Richmond, Va., area for 15 years.

Out of work, Kovachic, 54, decided to fall back on a skill that generated a paycheck when he was in college - bartending.

Kovachic said he "freelances" at several bars and country clubs in the area and enjoys the relaxed atmosphere.

"I worked behind a desk in an office setting for quite a few years and didn't want to return to that life," he said. "This is a lot less stressful."

Experience helps

For 20 years, Karen Gray worked with The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Institute's continuing education and membership arm, where she developed educational tours in the mid-Atlantic area.

"I'd find experts and work with them on putting together onsite learning experiences," she said.

Offerings ranged from neighborhood walks that provided information on architecture and history to bus tours to historic sites and museums.

In April of 2001, Gray retired and moved to Hagerstown from the Foggy Bottom section of Washington, D.C.

"I love the C&O Canal and wanted to volunteer more for the park," she said.

She said she had visited the areas over the years and liked the area.

Gray, 68, said she retired at age 60 and planned to work part time for a few years. She landed a job as an assistant editor for Rowman & Littlefield publishers in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., where she worked for three years, putting in about 30 hours a week.

Gray also began lecturing about once a month for Hagerstown Community College's Lifelong Learning program.

Today, her role in the program has expanded.

"Retirement has given me the opportunity to study subjects I was wanting to get back into, to catch up on the latest scholarship and to extend my knowledge," she said.

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