New York employers gain experience by hiring older workers

NORWICH – As the fastest-growing sector of today’s workforce, Americans age 55 and older play a vital role – a trend the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) says will continue through the 21st century.

Experience Works, a national nonprofit organization providing training, community service, and employment opportunities for older workers in 30 states and Puerto Rico, joins the DOL in celebrating the contributions of older workers and the great value they bring to the workplace during National Employ Older Workers Week, Sept. 21-27, 2014.

According to DOL, nearly half of all employers think the loss of their older employees over the next decade could be a problem for them. Forwarding-thinking employers are developing strategies to attract and retain older workers. Older workers’ experience enhances their decision-making skills, they keep institutional memory within a business, and can help reduce employee turnover.

“Employers are beginning to recognize that by developing an intergenerational workforce, they can increase their competitive advantage,” said Sarah Biggers, Chief Executive Officer for Experience Works. “It’s all about creating opportunities to succeed – not only for the business, but for the older worker as well.”

The DOL and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate older workers will make up 25 per cent of the U.S. civilian labor force by 2020, up from 13 percent in 2000. Experience Works (SCSEP) provides training and paid community service assignments in public and nonprofit organizations as a way to help update job skills and build confidence for unemployed, older individuals age 55 and older who have been struggling to find work.

“We help older workers get the skills they need to be successful, while offering employers skilled and qualified candidates for local job openings,” said Karen Mastronardi, New York State Program Manager for Experience Works, operating the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) in 26 New York counties.

Darlene Smith of Norwich is one of many people in New York State enrolled in the program who has used their training as a springboard to employment. “It was quite a blow” said Darlene Smith after losing her job as a filling technician at Golden Artist, a local company making art and painting supplies. During her more than ten-year career, she not only operated and maintained the machinery to fill paint containers, but also assisted in other departments such as shipping and customer service. Originally planning to work until retirement, Smith suddenly found herself without a job – a victim of restructuring.

The Norwich native knew that finding a new position with a manufacturing company was slim to none, as most were closing their doors or relocating from the area. Smith made the decision to go back to school and graduated from Morrisville State College with an associate’s degree in medical coding, but an internship with Legal Aid transitioned into a full-time job. After two years, Smith again lost her job – this time due to funding cuts.

Living alone, Smith was desperate to find employment, but unsuccessful. After enrolling in the Experience Works Senior Community Service Employment Program or SCSEP, she updated her skills as a participant assistant for the program – helping other people enrolled in the program, working with community service partners, and employers. Her “can do” attitude provided motivation and inspiration to SCSEP participants, whether it was in Job Club, or during specialized computer training – which she coordinated. “I learned so much,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to work with all types of people, and become reconnected with so many communities, including my own.”

Smith was offered a job through Contemporary Personnel Staffing for an administrative assistance position updating files with Esterline, a company manufacturing aircraft parts for the military. Darlene is the 2014 recipient of the Experience Works Champion Participant Award which is given annually to a SCSEP participant in New York State who has excelled in their training position, overcome significant barriers and obtained unsubsidized employment. Darlene received her award on Monday at the CDO Workforce in Norwich.

Experience Works is always looking for new partnerships and opportunities for older workers. For more information contact Karen Mastronardi toll free 877-314-3387, or visit

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