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BOSTON, October 1, 2015….Mario Hammond did not have a mid-life career change – she retired, and then retrained for an entirely different job.

After working for 20 years as a patient service specialist at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., Hammond returned to Boston because, “I decided my retirement should be where I’m from, so I came back,” she said last week while attending a State House event recognizing the importance of older workers during National Employ Older Workers Week.

Mario Hammond receiving an award from Elder Affairs Secretary Alice Bonner and EOLWD Undersecretary Stephanie Neal-Johnson

Mario Hammond receiving an award from Elder Affairs Secretary Alice Bonner and EOLWD Undersecretary Stephanie Neal-Johnson

Hammond, 63, exemplifies a growing trend among baby boomers – taking on new careers after they retire.

The workplace in America is undergoing a demographic shift.

More than 4.5 million Americans aged 50 to 70 have pursued so-called “encore careers.”

For the first time since 1948, employees old enough to retire outnumber teenagers in the workforce, according to AARP.

Four generations now work side by side

By 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that workers 55 and older will make up 25 percent of the labor force in the United State, up from 13 percent in 2000. And by 2022, nearly one-third of those 65 to 74 will still be in the labor force.

Some worry about this trend, but businesses and organizations have an opportunity to use older people’s experience and wisdom to their company’s advantage.

“In the end, we are a society that is aging,” said Michael Festa, state director of AARP Massachusetts. “We can either embrace it or wring our hands. I say we embrace it.”

While some employers struggle to find workers to fill open positions, older workers are an untapped resource, Festa said.

Elder Affairs Secretary Alice Bonner suggests businesses start with just one older worker. Employers will then see how beneficial it is to have older workers on board.

“The well-being of our economy and our society depends on leveraging the strengths of older workers,” Secretary Bonner said.

Hammond, from Dorchester, originally thought she would find a job again as a patient service specialist. But after searching for a year, she decided it was time for a new field. After training to become a personal care attendant she took additional classes to work with people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Having a job and people who rely on her every day keeps her going, Hammond said.

“Elderly people have – especially older than I – have stories, and those stories sometimes move you on, or sometimes they’re painful and you say this could me, let me make them a little more comfortable,” Hammond said.

Bumping more than pay

Older workers who receive retraining get more than a paycheck – new skills build their self-esteem.

Often because of their age, or a break in their work history, they doubt their ability to get a job. When they enter a job training program, they get the support they need to take on new challenges.

If you are an older worker seeking retraining, the state can help:

Massachusetts community colleges and One-Stop Career Centers are embracing the older worker, offering training programs to help them launch their new careers.

Some community colleges have created classes specifically targeted to baby boomers who want to become entrepreneurs or new business owners.

One-Stop Career Centers have specialized training programs that help mature workers reenter or retrain for new jobs, many in the health care fields.

There is also the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which provides on-the job skills training to people 55+ with limited financial resources. Since its inception, the Senior Community Service Employment Program has helped more than 1 million older Americans enter the workforce.

People who are eligible receive on-the-job training at a non-profit organization, along with an hourly stipend.

In Springfield and Holyoke last year, dozens of seniors received training at the local One-Stop Career Centers to become personal care aides through the Service Community Service Employment Program.
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