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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No quit in these older employees

Staying active and contributing can mean as much as a paycheck
Decked out in black pinstriped pants and a pink silk blouse, Connie R. Summers is an employer's dream.
She knows how to make a client feel welcome. And she's a mentor to co-workers, filled with real-world knowledge you just can't teach.
The kind of knowledge that comes from spending 60 years in the workplace.
"I'm not ready to give this up. I love having a job to do each day," said the 81-year-old employee at RJE Business Interiors on East Ohio Street in Indianapolis. "You do it because you want to, not because someone tells you this should be done."
More and more older Americans have decided they want to stay on the payroll. Some need jobs just to cover their health insurance costs. Others, like Summers, want to stay active.
About 6.4 percent of people 75 or older, just more than 1 million, were working in 2006. That's up from 4.7 percent, or 634,000, a decade earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In Indiana, the number of workers ages 65 to 99 has jumped 26 percent since 1999, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There were about 955,000 employed seven years ago, compared with 1.2 million in 2006.
"There are people who just don't want to leave the workplace," said Terry Brown, economic research analyst with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Whatever the reason, employers benefit.
"There is an awful lot of opportunity to take advantage of institutional knowledge," said Michael Jalbert, president of MRI Network, a Philadelphia-based professional staffing company. "Companies need that expertise. They also need that basic workplace knowledge."
Summers has been a star employee at RJE. Its business is furniture made to order by the customer, and its customers are high-profile. The furniture can be found in Simon Property Group's new headquarters, at the new Central Library and at Conseco, Cummins and Sallie Mae.
Summers is a secret weapon who gets the showroom ready for client meetings, baking chocolate chip cookies and coordinating presentations. She also likes to re-clean the restrooms to make sure they sparkle. She fills in at the front switchboard and stands at the door to greet customers with a hug. At all times, she is dressed to the nines in fashionable business attire.
"She is vital to our business, but it also keeps her vital," said Dennis Sponsel, president of RJE. "People have this basic need to contribute and a basic need to be challenged, and when they are missing that, something is missing in their lives."
No one has to tell that to Jim Streeter, 70, a group manager with Shiel Sexton, a construction management company.
"You can only do so many crossword puzzles," he said. "I like to keep my brain active."
After retiring from Hunt Construction a few years back, Streeter decided he wasn't ready to give up employment altogether. Today he is not only a full-time employee, but one who goes above and beyond the call of duty.
"Right out of the gates he came in with a high degree of credibility," said John Andrews, director of business development at Shiel. "People know him in the industry. People respect him. His background in the industry is something you can't duplicate."
What is even more impressive is Streeter's ability to adapt to the modern workplace. Technology is not a problem. Complicated software, not a problem.
"He's further ahead than some of the guys in their 40s around here," said Andrews.
Experts say, contrary to the myths, older workers are quite willing to learn new things. They are also some of the hardest-working employees to be found.
Gloria Bulger, 85, who has been in real estate 45 years, is the perfect example. She doesn't let a cell phone or computer listing of a house boggle her mind. She jumps right in.
When she got into real estate, she said, women and blacks weren't allowed to belong to the National Board of Realtors. She has definitely seen things change. But the basic job of making a client happy by finding what he or she wants hasn't changed, and that's why Bulger is still doing it.
"If I can help somebody, I will," said Bulger, with ReMax Real Estate Group on the Far Northside. "As long as I can limp around and hang onto a rail and get up those steps, I will do it. Why not?"
Source: The Indianapolis Star > Business, August 21, 2007

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