William “Burpee” Thomas was determined to get a job in Springfield. Retired from a prison ministry in Rantoul, Thomas found his way to new employment through Experience Works, a national organization that helps low-income people 55 and older get job training.
William “Burpee” Thomas was determined to get a job in Springfield.
Retired from a prison ministry in Rantoul, Thomas found his way to new employment through Experience Works, a national organization that helps low-income people 55 and older get job training.
Thomas, 64, landed a training position at the YMCA that turned into a permanent maintenance/janitorial job this summer.
Thomas credits Experience Works.
“When you’re a retiree, and the job market being as it is, it’s hard for an individual to get a job,” Thomas said. “The only minimum-wage jobs are in restaurants, and most seniors cannot keep up with that type of environment. Experience Works placed me somewhere where I could keep up with what was happening.”
Experience Works would welcome more partners such as the YMCA, which would give the organization additional training opportunities.
“We try to keep them in the same assignment for up to 12 to 18 months while they initially look for employment. If they’re not successful after 12 to 18 months, we look to rotate them to new training assignments so they can broaden their skills,” said Mark Dugger, Experience Works’ employment and training coordinator.
Dugger, who works out of Greenfield, covers 11 counties in central Illinois, including Sangamon.
Thomas said his job at the YMCA has been a blessing.
“I meet plenty of people, which I’m very accustomed to doing anyway, but I don’t have to worry about their individual problems like I did as a minister,” he said.
Thomas receives Social Security benefits, but said he needs additional cash to pay his bills — “for sure.”
Working at the Y, he said, “My hours are sufficient for right here, right now.”
Experience Works enrollees work an average of 20 hours per week for a public or nonprofit organization. They are paid minimum wage and receive training to update their skills or learn new ones.
The program’s funding — about $94 million was spent directly on trainees nationwide last year — comes through grants and donations.
That’s allowed Experience Works to help more than 50,000 people nationally. Last year, in Illinois, 747 people participated in the 63 counties the organization serves. About 50 people were enrolled in Sangamon County, according to Susan Jackson-Falls, business community liaison for Experience Works-Missouri/Illinois.
The service provided by Experience Works is important, Dugger said.
“Not only does it help the individual with part-time paid training, it also helps the local nonprofits, public agencies, units of government,” he said.
“There’s a great demand here in Springfield for the service, not only for the people here looking for employment, but also for community agencies that need additional help.”
While Experience Works does help some people who have simply been laid off, it mostly works with those who have been retired for several years.
“We see mostly people who are trying to get back into the work force because they’re finding high gas prices, high food prices,” Dugger said. “Their retirement pensions are not meeting their needs.”
Ed Holloway supervises Experience Works staff at the YMCA, which also includes trainee William Crisp. Trainees learn skills in laundering and basic custodial and janitorial duties.
“Taking care of the towels, getting the dirty towels … it’s not too hard,” said Crisp, 59, who knew something about the job already from previous work as a hotel houseman.
Laid off in 2003 after 14 years from Long Elevator in Riverton, Holloway, 61, trained through AARP, which conducted employment programs for seniors in some areas before being picked up by Experience Works.
“It’s hard to believe, but when you hit 55, it’s hard to get a job out there anymore,” Holloway said. “I don’t know if it’s because of the fact of insurance or whatever, but there’s a lot of companies, they don’t want you when you get that old.”
Older workers often have impediments to employment such as disabilities, lack of education and insufficient skills, according to Experience Works.
“Lot of folks already have skills, and it’s just getting your foot back in the door and networking and community and learning new ways to find employment through use of the Internet,” Dugger said. “We try to provide those training opportunities.”
Susan Gregoire, 63, of Springfield is receiving training at the Illinois workNet Center, 1300 S. Ninth St. She answers phones, files and is learning how to use computers.
“You’re never too old to learn,” said Gregoire, who lived in Davenport, Iowa, for 25 years before moving back to her hometown. “I want a job, but I didn’t have the skills in computer yet, and I had to learn that.”
Real success comes when seniors in the program find regular employment, Dugger said.
“That is the objective of Experience Works, to place you somewhere where you’re looking for employment while you are actually working for Experience Works,” Thomas said.
“The objective is to get you hired at the place where they send you. I’ve been very fortunate enough that people here at the Y like what I do. They hired me on.”
Tamara Browning can be reached at (217) 788-1534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.