Seniors, you’re hired!

Senior at job fair
More than 200 seniors — looking for paid or volunteer work — browsed tables at the Older Adult Job Fair in April.

It didn’t take very long to find out whether the Older Adult Job Fair held recently on the Martin Luther Campus in Bloomington would be a success. Organizers said about 100 seniors had signed up, and by the time the doors opened, twice that many were milling around.

I was one of them.

To me, they looked excited, energized and interested as they roamed the room where more than 20 local businesses and volunteer organizations were represented. Some of the seniors were looking to volunteer. Others wanted part-time jobs and a few wanted full-time employment.

By the time the event was over, the businesses interviewed 25 applicants and made at least 10 hires. The event was organized by the Martin Luther Campus, a senior living community, because of reports that more than 60 percent of workers still claim they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination.

“As adults age, it becomes extremely important for seniors to find meaningful employment,” said campus administrator Jody Barney. “We decided it was time to do something to help — and the outpouring of support we received from local businesses has been outstanding.”

Some of those businesses and nonprofits included Cub Foods, Ace Hardware, Hilton Hotels, Sam’s Club, Right at Home In Home Care & Assistance, Seniors Helping Seniors and Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP).

Richard Anderson, 64, of Minneapolis was one of those looking for part-time work. He retired from Starkey Labs in 2017 but felt he needed to stay active.

“I’ve already fixed everything in my house,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything real physical, and I’d like to stay in and around the Bloomington area. I’m getting Social Security, but a little extra money each month wouldn’t hurt either.”

Debbie Belfry was representing VEAP and looking for volunteers to help provide food, social services and transportation for people in Edina, Richfield and Bloomington. She said the organization already has 3,100 volunteers to assist low-income residents.

“We could always use more,” she said. “And we think our volunteers get great benefits from their work. They can have flexible hours, social contact and a chance to do something useful for people who really need the help.”

Tom McNamara from Bloomington was at the fair looking for people who wanted paid work with Ace Hardware. He was once a retiree — he sold his robotics company in 2011 — who decided he needed to do something other than sit around. He works 30 to 35 hours a week and loves his job. He has a persuasive pitch for his company: Projections show Minnesota will have 3.1 million jobs in 2024 and only 2.7 million working-age adults to fill them.

“At Ace,” he said, “we do special things for our older customers. That’s why seniors would like working for us. We can carry out a bag of salt or even make a special delivery. It feels good to be of that kind of service.”

According to the Minnesota Compass project, about a quarter of the 65- to 74-year-olds in Minnesota are still in the workforce, along with 6 percent of adults 75 and older. Projections show Minnesota will have 3.1 million jobs in 2024 and only 2.7 million working-age adults to fill them.

Luke Jenkins, the community relations director for Martin Luther Campus, said he expects the job fair to become an annual event for the community, which is managed by Ebenezer, the senior housing division of Fairview Health Services.

Several Ebenezer sister sites are now looking to host job fairs of their own.

“We are also starting senior employment networking,” Jenkins said, adding that special events at the Martin Luther Campus might feature various industry representatives sharing information about job opportunities for seniors.

What struck me about the seniors at the job fair was that no matter how old they were or how well off they appeared, they all had an abiding need to feel useful.

Some want to get paid. Others want to give it away. No one wants to be sitting around waiting for the afternoon mail.

Walking alongside those who were looking, I got the feeling they still had a few moves left — and maybe a little something to prove to themselves.

Dave Nimmer had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to [email protected].