The world of Works at retirement age

Susan Rouse was in a pinch. After being away from the working world for eight years, the 61-year-old former nonprofit director was looking for a way back in. Retirement wasn't what it was cracked up to be. Rouse longed to be needed again - a feel...

N.D's changing labor force

Susan Rouse was in a pinch.

After being away from the working world for eight years, the 61-year-old former nonprofit director was looking for a way back in.

Retirement wasn't what it was cracked up to be. Rouse longed to be needed again - a feeling found at her former nonprofit gig.

But she needed help finding the right job. Health issues meant she was only in the market for part-time work.

Want-ads weren't gleaning the schedule and work opportunities Rouse hoped to find.


"I needed a gentle way to break back into the work force. I also needed the extra income."

Enter Experience Works.

Formerly known as the Green Thumb program, Experience Works is a federally funded initiative designed to provide people age 55 and older with job training and connections to full-time or part-time employment at local nonprofits or other public agencies.

The nationwide program pays participants minimum wage and helps them boost job-seeking skills such as interviewing and resume design. The training also doubles as a part-time job, allowing seniors to bring in some income while polishing skills that may lead to better employment down the road.

Since July 2006, the program has trained about 1,075 people in Minnesota and placed 118 into private employment after their yearlong stints with Experience Works, said Connie Moench, the program's business and community liaison in Bismarck.

In North Dakota, the program served 600 people since last July and helped another 54 find private employment, Moench said.

Forty people are now enrolled in the program in Cass County, said Steve Leibfried, an employment and training assistant for Experience Works' Fargo office.

Assistance for older people re-entering the work force is a concept catching on across the nation.


There's a growing list of job Web sites specifically geared toward the 55 and older crowd, according to the AARP.

Web sites such as , , and - a site geared toward older Americans who want to work in Europe - grab a steady audience, including people in the Red River Valley.

While North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota brace for widespread changes in the labor force, what is often overlooked is how some baby boomers who are projected to leave the working world either can't or don't want to retire.

Statistics from the North Dakota Data Center show that the state's work force will shift dramatically in the next 15 years.

State demographer Richard Rathge predicted in a 2007 study that the number of North Dakotans reaching retirement age by 2020 will balloon by 55,785.

By 2020, the number of people age 65 and older will outpace the number of those in the working-age group of 35- to 54-year-olds.

The number of 35- to

54-year-olds is projected to drop from 183,435 in 2000 to 146,717 in 2020. Those projections prompt concerns about North Dakota's dwindling younger population and the effect it will have on the state's work force.


That makes Leibfried wonder why some companies hesitate to hire older employees.

"There's a lot out there about how good the Fargo area is for job seekers," he said. "We're finding out it's an excellent prospect for young persons ... but demographically, a lot of our young people are leaving the area.

"If our population is aging, why are our employers not more conducive to hiring an older worker?"

There are plenty of older people who plan to keep working into their golden years, studies show.

A 2005 survey released by U.S. Trust Corp., a wealth-management firm owned by the Charles Schwab Corp., shows that a large chunk of Americans plan to work at least part time during their retirement.

The survey found that

57 percent of "affluent Americans" polled said they plan to work part time in retirement. Other studies show that many middle-class Americans will work in retirement because they have to or they want to.

Leibfried said clients he works with at Experience Works give mixed reasons for why they seek employment. Some have never worked outside of their home and after divorcing or becoming widows, realize they need employment for a better lifestyle, he said.

Others simply don't want to sit at home during retirement.

Rouse fits into both categories.

A Fargo transplant from Williston, N.D., Rouse struggled to hold down jobs because of an illness.

She'd take a job, only to have to resign a short time later because the illness meant she missed too many days at the office.

Social Security income wasn't enough to make ends meet. Her health improved, and when a human resource coordinator referred her to Experience Works, Rouse jumped at the opportunity.

She's been working at downtown Fargo's Spirit Room for six weeks.

Rouse - who has also worked as a dispatcher for a crash and fire team in Antarctica and learned conflict-resolution skills in the military - said she feels at home working at the Spirit Room.

She has taken on some accounting and grant-writing duties at the art gallery/performing arts venue, said Spirit Room Executive Director Dawn Morgan.

"It really helps a lot because I'm only there half-time as an executive director. There's always way too much work to do," Morgan said.

"(Experience Works) has helped us out so much. We're starting to be a lot more responsive to the needs of the community that weren't being met before."

Rose Hammond, the Spirit Room's other Experience Works employee, found that the program allowed her to make a career change without the time and financial commitment of going back to earn another degree.

Hammond, 61, retired in 1991 after spending 25 years as a nursing supervisor at MeritCare.

She worked as a floral designer but longed for more job training and a position connected to the arts. Now Hammond schedules classes and other programming at the Spirit Room.

"It's really a healing environment here," she said. "It's uplifting and healing."

Leibfried said the program offers many rewards to participants.

"It's very rewarding to see people who've struggled with barriers of employment - age, lack of employment or physical disabilities - to see them flourish in a work environment and to see them be productive," he said.

"It really adds to their quality of life and their


Experience Works

Experience Works, a federally-funded nonprofit that aims to help older workers gain job training and find employment, has several objectives, including:

- To foster and promote useful part-time community service opportunities for low-income people.

- To enhance the abilities, skills and aptitudes of participants so they can obtain jobs with better pay and benefits.

- To change negative attitudes and stereotypes about older workers through public education.

- To create projects that promote "innovative work alternatives," second-career training and placement into permanent employment.

- To teach job-related training and learn job search skills.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Melinda Rogers at (701) 241-5524

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