After Mary Szelenbaum of Joliet took three years off work to care for a family member, she found she wasn’t quite sure how to jump back into the job market.
The economy had tanked by that time, and workers over 50 were having more difficulty finding positions than were their younger counterparts.
Plus, she was considering changing fields from working in a hospital to possibly non-profit work, and she wasn’t sure where to begin. Fortunately, she found just the place to get her job-hunting skills and workplace abilities up to par — Joliet Junior College’s Plus 50 Workforce Center.
The program has support services in its Grundy County Center in Morris and at JJC’s main campus in Joliet. The workshops and other services are geared toward older workers who are in a job search or are looking to move up in their field.
“I found out about the classes online,” Szelenbaum said. “I wasn’t looking for plus 50, but I do qualify.”
Szelenbaum said she was glad later to see the classes were filled with people her own age.
“It’s such a difference sitting with people who are closer to my age and have a lot of work experience to offer than it would be sitting with 20- or 30-year-olds who have different needs,” she said. “There’s a camaraderie that you wouldn’t be able to find in a regular workshop.”
The workshops she took were Resume Writing and Job Search; Social Networking for Job Searching; and a couple of others.
“I was impressed by them,” she said.
Szelenbaum said one of the things she learned is that applying for a job used to mean doing classified ad searches, making the phone call, then setting up an interview. Today, she said, it’s a little different.
“Now, so much of it is done on line,” she said. “It’s really important to understand what it takes to get a job today. You go to the company’s website and learn about it there first.”
Larger companies don’t even pass resumes along to real people unless a computer first filters them for key words in which the company is interested, she said. That’s something else she would not have known if it were not for the workshops.
JJC’s Workforce Skills Manager Kelly Lapetino said two of the program’s workshops will be held in May.
“Changing or Starting your Career Later in Life” will be held Thursday, May 10. The workshop aims to build confidence and awareness, assess skills, teach ways to improve, and develop strategic plans through goal-setting.
Another workshop, “Get the Job you Want Even When No One’s Hiring,” will be held on Thursday, May 24. The syllabus describes this workshop as teaching students how to better market their skills, create new jobs for themselves, and how to consult using their professional experience.
“It’s a wonderful resource and tool,” Lapetino said of the plus 50 program. “With the shift in the economy, those who have been laid off are on unemployment longer and find it harder getting back into the workforce. . . For those over 50, it can be even more daunting, especially if you’ve been in the same career all your life.”
Lapetino said many find themselves asking, “How do you start over again?” and “What’s that next chapter in my life?”
The program at JJC began in 2009 and has been so successful that representatives from the college have mentored other colleges in Illinois and across the nation. About 700 people have gone through JJC’s 50 plus workshops and programs, with more than half of them following through to college courses.
“If you can get people right away,” Lapetino said, “it helps them.”
The program also offers computer classes specifically for those over 50, social networking workshops, job search workshops, refresher classes for those considering returning to the classroom, career assessments, entrepreneurial counseling, and a mentor program.
JJC also awards college credit for life experience, something older workers have in abundance.
“With the workshops,” Lapetino said, “we get you into that mindset that you are not old. . . You learn how to convince a potential employer that you can help his business and that you are willing and eager to change and learn. You learn how to communicate that in an interview.”
JJC also offers simulated, videotaped interviews. Lapetino said it can be eye-opening to see yourself in an interview. One student, she remembers, had a great resume, but was not getting callbacks from initial interviews. On watching his videotapes, it was clear he was not making good eye contact with his interviewer.
“He saw it right away,” she said. “The next interview, he made a point of making eye contact. He did find employment. These little things could land you the job.”
Lapetino said more information can be found on Joliet Junior College’s Plus 50 Workforce Center by visiting www.jjc.edu/continuing-education or by calling (815) 280-1500. To subscribe to the free Plus 50 newsletter, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.