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Looking For Work After 50

After spending decades building a career, many Ohioans start making plans to kick back and enjoy their retirement. But, a growing number of people in their 50s have found themselves back at square one, trying to start the job search all over again. And sometimes a lifetime of experience doesn't get you far in a changing job market. Dave Dickson stirs some coffee in a clear plastic mug, monogrammed with a big "D." The Solon resident is currently employed by a company that sells such personalized gift items, along with tee-shirts that feature wacky sayings, like "International Beer Drinking Team." Dickson is a warehouse worker now. He used to manage such a facility. "Basically, I had it all the way from receiving to pulling it, finishing it, picking it, packing it, shipping it, and loading it on the truck," Dickson said. But after the national financial meltdown of 2008, 30 percent of the company’s staff was laid-off -- including Dave Dickson. He says he’d been through layoffs before, but when you’re in your mid-50s, the news hits you harder. "My hope was that that would be the last time that I would have to look for a job," Dickson says. "This would be the company that I retired from. And then that harsh reality hits you in the face - 'Well, here I go again.'" And Dickson has plenty of company. An Urban Institute study found that the jobless rate for people over 55 has doubled in the last five years. Another recent survey out of Rutgers University says that over half of the workers who found new jobs after being laid off during the Recession are making less money. The former protections of seniority have diminished in a time of weaker labor unions, and older job seekers are spending more time on the hunt. Case in point: Dan Champ of Aurora. "It’s been difficult for me for the last five years. Very difficult." Champ was working as an aerospace engineer when the layoff notice came. Unlike a young college grad trying to crack a tough job market, he also had a wife, kids in college, and a home to pay for. When he went looking for new employment, he found that an impressive resume seemed to be working against him. Hiring managers told him he was "overqualified." "That seems to be a standing terminology, these days, for people in my age group," Champ says. University of North Carolina business management expert Ben Rosen sees that term as a code word. "Some people have said that when a manager says you’re overqualified, it means is: “You probably want this job as a temporary stepping stone until you find something better, and I don’t want to put up with the turnover," Rosen says. At the same time, he says, some companies seem to have no problem with the temporary nature of what are known as contract employees. There can be considerable savings in hiring a seasoned worker like Dan Champ on a contract basis. "Right now I am on contract with the company for a specified amount of time, at a specified rate, and there are no benefits," Champ says. For many job seekers – of all ages - contract work is, at least in the short term, their only option. Lori Long grooms future hiring managers in her business classes at Baldwin Wallace College. She's also a consultant for small and start-up firms, and understands the appeal of contract workers. "There are the advantages of less commitment to the worker," Longs says. "And the lack of the need to pay benefits is attractive. However, the downside of hiring workers as independent contractors is that they aren’t necessarily as committed to the company. Brecksville resident Lori Collins says she’s all about commitment. She’s been struggling in the job market for almost a year, trying to make the case that the life experience that comes with being over fifty makes her a valuable employee. "I’m not one to jump from job to job to job. I like to get in, settle down, know everything there is to know about the position, and I’m happy there. So, what’s with 'overqualified?' They don’t realize that I’d be an asset to them." Management expert Ben Rosen thinks that’s the argument the older worker has to make. How can your life skills add value to the organization today? Lori Collins says problem-solving is something that comes naturally to many post-50 workers. For instance, this past year, she volunteered to manage the local high school sports concession stand… and turned it around. "I re-did the menu, I listened to people as to what they thought would be good sellers. We tried wings. I did pulled pork which was an absolute success. The year before, they made $20,000, and this year, I made $41,000 for all the sports teams." She just wishes hiring managers understood her passion to work. "I’m still thinking about soup and chili, but didn’t get to that yet."