HR News & Trends, Talent Management

Second Chance: How ReServe Is Matching Older Workers, New Careers

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We’ve written about age discrimination on TLNT before and it’s a lousy path for those who have worked diligently for 30 plus years to be dumped unceremoniously into retirement.

But there is at least one non-profit organization that is trying to do something about it. ReServe is an organization that focuses on placing professionals aged 55+ with local non-profits and public agencies in New York City, Westchester County, NY and Miami.

There are a few organizations out there that try to help older professionals stay on their feet but ReServe makes a better case for older professionals landing on their feet in legitimate second careers.

Tapping into experience

About a year ago, I read a piece about ReServe on SecondAct, a publication that focuses on the over 40 crowd, that described the program:

Like similar organizations popping in up in cities around the country, ReServe taps into older adults’ interest in staying active after they retire. As the first wave of baby boomers turns 65 this year, the number of people interested in an encore career in community service or other socially relevant work is mushrooming.

Activity at ReServe is a microcosm of that trend. Since 2005, the nonprofit has placed 1,900 people into part-time jobs. This year alone, Executive Director Mary Bleiberg expects to find positions for 625 people who will work at least one month, though the average is seven months, and some “ReServists” are into their second, third or fourth year in a placement.”

It was intriguing, but I lost track of it. Then, I remembered it again when I saw a recent piece on The New York Times Opinionator blog that talked about the direct impact the program was having in city schools.

And while it isn’t a new concept (local programs and SeniorCorps have been in place for decades), the ReServe makes itself distinctive in a couple of ways.

Useful skills and a future

For one, non-profits and public agencies pay for ReServists — $15 per hour, of which $10/hour goes back to the ReServist with the remaining going to cover administration costs for ReServe and the employer of record. While this has led some non-profits to abandon the program, I find it somewhat refreshing.

The work these people do is valuable to the organizations they serve. And while some are using skills learned in past positions, others are striking out on new paths of their own. And as someone who has said that all internships should be paid, it makes sense that these folks starting their second careers, often with far more to offer than your average university student in the knowledge and experience department, deserve to be paid, too.

But what is more compelling than the pay issue is the skills issue. While the SeniorCorps is a good program (and for full disclosure, I had a great-aunt that worked in the program for years as a foster grandparent), it’s not really designed for people who want to continue in their careers. ReServe works almost like a traditional staffing agency, matching people to potential jobs in a low risk environment.

Value without condescension

With some of the local programs I’ve encountered, I’ve found a level of condescension about how well older professionals can adapt and what skills they can bring to the table for the organizations they can work for. What ReServe does a great job at is placing the right people in the right places, rather than simply looking for menial work that can be done without a challenge. Yes, $10/hour isn’t much but it is refreshing to hear stories like this about the program from that same The New York Times piece:

Perhaps the most important thing Wallace and Meyerson bring to the job is that it isn’t just a job.   “I worked for Stanley Kaplan (the test-prep company, where he held several senior positions) for 12 years, and I’d choose these folks any day,” said Raschella.  “They are part-timers, but they will e-mail me at 2 a.m. about great scholarships they’ve found.  They are working with students as if they were their own children.”

In late December, Raschella, Wallace and Meyerson were putting in long days, sometimes 12 hours.  The college office looked like a war room as application deadlines approached.   Students sat on the floor folding letters; tables were stacked with envelopes.”

Mastery, purpose, autonomy and a future. This isn’t a greeter job at Walmart; there is something significant about the work these folks are doing with the ReServe program. They bring value to the agencies they serve and their customers. And, that’s the best a program like this can do.

Lance Haun is an editor at The Starr Conspiracy, a marketing agency focused on the enterprise HCM market. He spent three years as an editor at ERE Media and seven years in the recruiting and HR trenches before joining the agency. You can follow him on Twitter, circle him on Google+, check out his blog or contact him directly at lance@coug.rs.