About 400 seniors attended the first “Mature Workers Job Fair” hosted by the DC Department of Employment Services to attract resident 55 and over seeking employment opportunities.

The event, held at the Martin Luther King Library on March 29, was filled with seniors, dressed in business attire, with briefcases and laptops, eagerly seeking jobs.

“We don’t have to tell seniors how to act and dress for work. We don’t need to constantly talk to them about punctuality. Seniors are trustworthy and reliable.

These are qualities that businesses are looking for in workers,” said David Thompson, public information officer or the Department of Employment Services (DOES).

Margaret Wright, associate director for DOES special programs, coordinates senior employment programs. DOES conducted a survey to determine what types of jobs seniors were interested in and contacted employers that were looking for employees for this type of work. “We must bring mature workers to our One Stop Centers, match them with placement staff that will register them in our database, and walk them through our online process,” Wright said.

Seniors at the job fair said it is extremely hard to survive on Social Security
Back in the day, Charles Ford, 60, was a household name in photography. In 2006, he went out of business. “With digital cameras and cell phones now everyone’s taking their own pictures,” he said. Since then he’s worked as a courier and security guard. About a year ago, Ford landed a position with the DOES senior training program. He is hired out to companies for 15 hours a week at $8.25 per hour, paid by the District government.

“It’s been rough looking for work. Especially when you make it to the last point of entry and someone asks you if you speak Spanish. If you don’t, you never get called back,” said Ford.

Charles Burris, 59, has worked in many capacities for the last 30 years including security and landscaping. He became unemployed two years ago while working at Murry’s Fine Foods part time. “I need a full time job. The competition we have now is mostly from immigrants who have come to live here. Their presence sets the pace for hiring, wages, and lack of benefits,” Burris said.

Barbara Fleming said competition is steep in the healthcare field with an influx of African immigrants. At 57, Fleming is a licensed certified nursing assistant looking for work in a high quality nursing home. “It seems nursing homes prefer immigrant labor because it’s cheaper but not necessarily the best. I want to be in an environment where the worker and clients are respected,” said Fleming.

Larry Harper,63, retired as a Verizon computer systems contractor five years ago. He came to the job fair to if there was contract work available in his field and to sign up for training to be retooled for other types of permanent jobs. “I’ve filed online eight times to Sibley Hospital in the last four weeks and haven’t heard a thing,” he said to the human resource specialist from the hospital. “I really hope this job fair is worth my time.”

“I’m really impressed with the mature workers who have come to this job fair. They are well prepared, qualified and interested in working,” said Cathleen Williams, recruiter for American University on site at the job fair.

Since July 1, 2011 DOES has served 3,260 mature workers seeking employment. Currently companies showing an interested in hiring mature workers include: George Washington University, Sibley Hospital, All Team Staffing, United Medical Center, Segway, Southeast Children’s Fund, MB Staffing, Transitional Housing for Youth, Unity Healthcare, Metro Airports Authority, L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, Washington Court Hotel, Balance Gym, Dc USA, Leading Age, Clyde’s, PG County Human Resources, See Forever Foundation, Specialty Hospital, Children’s National Medical Center, Georgetown University, American University and DDOT.

“I truly hope this time I get employed. It’s a shame when you can’t even get a job walking a dog,” Ford said.

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO