Back to work: Seniors train for new jobs

By Joe Stumpe | March 29, 2019

Larry Crosswhite got used to a certain kind of reception as he tried to re-enter the workforce.

“Most people, when I would appear for a position, I think they took a look at me and decided they didn’t want me because of my age,” the 67-year-old Wichitan said.

Thanks to the Senior Community Service Employment program operated by the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas, Crosswhite is working again. It’s a part-time job for a nonprofit organization, so Crosswhite isn’t exactly getting rich. But it provides income and he’s picked up employable skills and experience he didn’t possess before.

The federally-funded program is designed to do just that for people 55 and older. Participants are paid the minimum wage -$7.25 per hour – to train at one of several dozen nonprofit organizations that partner with the Workforce Alliance. 

“That isn’t very enticing for a lot of people but what we tell them is don’t consider it a job,” said Chip Reece, a workforce professional with the alliance. “This isn’t something we intend you to stay in.”

Reece said many older people need to transition from physical labor-oriented jobs. “They’re thinking they need to do something sitting down. In order to be competitive in that market, you’re going to have to improve on computer skills. Touching a computer daily is the only way to build those skills.”

Meanwhile, as they train, they apply for jobs.

“Having current employment is beneficial to getting a job,” Reece said. “That’s kind of what our program can provide.”

The program serves up to 83 people at a time – 55 in Sedgwick County and 28 in six surrounding counties. Participants must be unemployed and meet certain income restrictions.  “Give us a call, we’ll do some math on the phone if you’re concerned about it before going through the hoops,” Reece said.

Once accepted, they are sent to interviews with potential training partners such as the Urban League of Kansas and United Methodist Open Door in Wichita, New Jerusalem Missions in Newton or the Butler Workforce Center in El Dorado. Reece said the partners “want to make sure the person is a good fit” while understanding “these are people with a high level of barriers, age being only the first. A lot have health issues, criminal backgrounds, transporation issues.”

Crosswhite worked in various fields, including 14 years as a cross-country trucker, before quitting for physical reasons. He was out of work two years before finding the Workforce Alliance program, which placed him with the Salvation Army Worship & Community Center in south Wichita. He trained as a receptionist and office assistant. In addition to “tuning up some computer skills,” Crosswhite said he had to “become used to working with people from different walks of life and different backgrounds. Truck driving, you don’t really see a lot of people.”

He learned well enough that the Salvation Army offered him a job, picking up his salary – and increasing it from minimum wage. He said he enjoys helping people who need it.

Crosswhite went back to work because he needed the money. 

That was only part of the motivation for Donald Porter, 64, who spent two decades working as a custodian for the Wichita school district but had been out of work for 12 years.

“When you get to be retired, it sounds good but then you sit home hour after hour, day after day, and that gets to be pretty boring,” Porter said.

The Workforce Alliance program assigned Porter to train in custodial work with the city of Wichita at McAdams Park. Porter said he’s not as strong physically as he once was but the program “helps you build yourself up and gives you confidence to work.

“It got me back on point being on time, taking orders and doing other things as well.”

In early March, he landed a job working about 25 hours a week at Guadalupe Clinic on South St. Francis. He takes pride in getting to the clinic long before sun-up and having it ready by the time staff and patients arrive.

“I like getting there early and getting things done,” he said.

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