Ignite Career Center Finds Jobs Matching Elders’ Skill Sets

Many older adults need or want to work beyond traditional retirement age (see our Jan.–Feb. Generations Today issue for more on this), yet the pandemic has made the prospect of finding a job much more challenging. But while age discrimination remains a reality, there were 11 million job openings at the end of Oct. 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We’re also hearing good news on this front from the Ignite Career Center at Baltimore’s Jewish Community Services (JCS). Generations Now spoke with JCS’ Executive Director Joan Grayson Cohen, its Senior Manager, Employment Support Services, Andrea Fenwick and its Senior Manager, Career Services & Economic Advancement Lisa Gorman about what they’re seeing in the people who click through their virtual door for help getting back to work.

JCS serves about 30,000 people each year with many issues, from mental health to financial well-being. Fenwick works with all-age job seekers who are state-funded and may have disabilities (about 35 percent of whom are older adults), whereas Gorman works with non–state-funded adults (about 60 percent of her clients are older) who need work.

Two years ago, the JCS Career Center rebranded as the Ignite Career Center at JCS and during the pandemic its virtual career center began serving clients across the world. As job seeking and hiring has all gone online, the Ignite Career Center is sitting in an opportune place to help scores of elders obtain new positions.

‘The staff here is excellent at helping job seekers reinvent who they are.’

Fenwick’s clients are on Medicaid waivers and funded out of three departments—the Developmental Disabilities Administration, the Behavioral Health Administration, and the Division of Rehabilitation Services. She secures jobs for people who need pre-employment help, on-the-job support, or follow-up support once they have a new job.

Always, Fenwick says, she “meets them where they are,” providing whatever help they may need. Gorman’s clients come to the Center for various reasons, some really want to work, and they are coming out of retirement seeking social engagement, while others have outlived their savings and need to work. She has helped 60-year-olds get “incredible jobs if they have the skills,” and she has clients who are working well into their 70s, even a few into their mid-80s.

Matching the Client to the Position

The services the Ignite Center provides are extensive. First the staff get to know the clients well to root out what they have done in past workplaces and spin that knowledge into a modern tale. Who is this person and what skills do they possess that might be transferable to a job that’s available? “These people have had years of work experience and a great skill set, but we have to figure out what will work now, in the current day,” says Gorman.

“The staff here is excellent at helping job seekers reinvent who they are. "says Grayson Cohen.

“So many people are going through this process,” says Gorman. “They can’t necessarily do what they used to do, and they want flexibility and time, so what format might a job take?” Gorman thinks this is the Ignite Center staff’s greatest strength, finding ways to transfer existing skill sets to varied positions.

“That’s what makes us different, we are a career center within a human services agency, and we focus on how you communicate effectively, how you handle difficult conversations, and we function to ensure everyone on staff has those clinical skills,” says Grayson Cohen. “We do a lot of training—professional training—to help staff think about their work that way.”

Ignite is also holistic in that it helps clients with their financial wellness, to prepare them to handle the economics of a new wage. Elders might have assumed they were set, financially, but maybe the market tanked, or COVID hit, so “it’s important to have that conversation about financial wellness and behavior change, in case you lost your job, and your finances are not what they were—how do you revamp everything, how will you now manage your finances? As a human services agency we have a different way of looking at the whole person, especially older adults who may not have expected to lose their jobs,” said Grayson Cohen.

Modernizing Resumes and Prepping for Interviews

The next hurdle to a new job can be a poor resume. Old resumes employ dated language, said Gorman. Industry language evolves, too, words and phrases that may have been fine 20 years ago are no longer useable. Ignite staff researches modern vernacular, capturing constantly evolving industry buzzwords that will pop on a resume. “If I looked at resumes, we were doing three years ago, they wouldn’t look anything like what we’re doing now,” says Gorman.

‘If they haven’t interviewed in a while, it’s a whole different world out there.’

Once a client secures an interview another process starts. “If they haven’t interviewed in a while, it’s a whole different world out there,” said Gorman. Clients who often call after an interview are baffled by what went on.

For those blindsided by weird interview questions, there are workshops, one-on-one meetings, mock interviews with career coaches and sometimes JCS board members, other employers, whatever might help boost the client’s confidence. They impress upon clients that the old language that’s no good on resumes won’t work in an interview, either.

There’s training in virtual interviewing and etiquette and in emergency situations staff may find opportunities for written interviews.

Ignite has two account representatives that work with 500 employers to match clients to employers, and they provide the newest information regarding job postings. “Our staff has become expert on virtual employment opportunities,” says Grayson Cohen. “When you’re older, being virtual is a godsend.”

Gorman uses that stable of employers to talk up various candidates “It’s kind of an exciting time,” says Gorman. “There are more jobs than ever with the big quit.”

“What’s interesting with older adults is they have stories to tell, so if we can channel that in the right way those can be great in an interview,” says Gorman.

“As you become older you might think people don’t want to hear your stories. But empowering people to know that some skills are unique to you, those you thought should be shelved, can be a benefit,” added Grayson Cohen.