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Older workers often prove to be huge asset

"My boss has offered me a 20-year contract with no escape clause. Think I should take it?" 75-year-old Israel Levine says with a laugh.

In the background, his employer -- Richard Evin, president of Montreal-based Evin Industries -- shouts, "Tell her you're getting younger every year." Obviously, employer and employee work well together.

For the past 12 years, Levine has been head shipper at Evin Industries, a company specializing in uniform outerwear for organizations such as the police, firefighters, airlines, transit and utilities in both Canada and the United States.

Working well into your mature years is a tradition at Evin Industries. After all, Evin's father, Harry, who founded the organization in 1938, lived to be 87 and worked at the company until he was 85. "He was a man who could never retire.

"I had always been told by my dad that a person who keeps working into his senior years has a better chance of remaining healthy and content."

So hiring Levine at 63, with his 21-year background as a textile sample maker, seemed natural to Evin.

"I didn't set out to hire a mature worker. I set out to hire the best possible worker," Evin says. "When the Jewish Vocational Service brought Israel to my attention, my first thought was about the 40 years of industry experience he could bring to the position.

"I think that kind of experience is an asset most people overlook. If they [employers] would open their minds more to the skills mature workers can bring to their company, I think that business in general would be more productive."

Besides, Evin adds, "As an employer of a 'senior staff man,' I get the extra benefit of 50-plus years of experience. Since I am a young guy [of 58], I have much to learn from Israel."

These are only a few of the traits mature workers bring to the job, agrees Howard Berger, executive director of the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Montreal, the organization that counselled Levine and introduced him to Evin Industries.

As part of the Mature Worker Program Access 45+, JVS, in collaboration with Quebec government agency Emploi-Québec, has been counselling mature workers for many years.

"This is not a new trend for us," Berger says. "We've recognized for some time that there is a real need to service mature workers who have been out of the work force. Some have been out of the work force for a few weeks or months, while others are re-entering the job market after an absence of years.

"It's very gratifying to see that governments are really taking this issue to heart."

There are a lot of benefits to hiring a mature worker, he says. Aside from the particular skill sets that a person such as Levine brings to the job, many of these advantages have to do with the mature worker's attitude.

"Many times, there's a definite higher level of commitment [no desire to fast-track from company to company to scale the ladder] and lack of absenteeism that comes as a result of many years of juggling work, family and community responsibilities," Berger says.

Yet many mature workers suffer from a lack of self-confidence. They are uncertain as to how to market themselves, or worry that their computer or French-language skills may not be at the required level.

"We might encounter a client who formerly was vice-president at a manufacturing facility, but has no computer skills and is perhaps even reluctant to turn the computer on," Berger says. "So we need to work with that person to help them acquire those skills."

He adds: "Our role at JVS is many-fold. Workshops, seminars, tutorials, counselling, placement are just a few of the services we provide. We even created a program to help a mature worker learn what kind of clothes to wear in the workplace today."

It's also important that mature workers not see their age as a barrier to employment. For example, they might look at their résumé and feel that it is really dated.

"There are many ways to write a résumé," Berger says. "It need not be chronological, for example. It can be structured to highlight experience, skill sets or leadership abilities."

JVS's involvement in the Evin/Levine relationship underscores the success of the program.

Just ask Levine: "I intend to work here as long as my health holds out," he says emphatically. "I'm a happy camper."

Older, wiser

-*Invest in updating skills: The mature worker may be really experienced, for example, in accounting specific to your industry. Ask yourself: Which is more cost effective? Paying for his or her updated computer training? Or trying to teach an accounting computer whiz all about your widgets?

-*Look beyond the time gap: Just because a person decided to retire doesn't mean he or she is out of touch. In today's business environment, employees return to the work force for a number of reasons - they need the money; retirement leaves them bored and/or unchallenged; or they miss the camaraderie of the workplace.

-*Does the position/job really require someone full-time, or 9 to 5? Perhaps a retired or semi-retired worker wants to work only part-time. After all, the prospect of more years of fighting rush-hour traffic may seem really unappealing. Ask yourself: How many hours does this job require? Does it need to be strictly scheduled, and, if so, is there some latitude in when the work is completed?

© The Globe and Mail

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