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Class puts older job-seekers more at ease

When Elizabeth Cierpka moved to Hudson two years ago from New Jersey, she started looking for a new job. Although she had plenty of experience and good references, she was baffled when no one called her for an interview. Mrs. Cierpka, 60, decided her age was what kept prospective employers from calling her, so she signed up for classes designed to help senior citizens re-enter the job market.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) sponsored the classes, held at the Community Aging and Retirement Services (CARES) center. On Monday, 23 Pasco residents graduated from the program, which focused on topics such as job interviews, resumes and cover letters.

"Most of us came to realize we weren't the only ones looking for a job," Mrs. Cierpka said. "We all came to the same conclusion _ it was age, and area employers needed some education. We have skills they can use. We're reliable. We have a lot to offer."

Twenty-four businesses apparently do not need to be convinced of that, sending representatives to a job fair at the CARES center Wednesday. About 200 people attended the job fair designed for seniors.

According to AARP estimates, one-third of the 30-million retired Americans would like to work. The association does not track the number of retirees who re-enter the work force. But groups that deal with seniors do know that many older people lack confidence or the necessary skills to try to find jobs.

Al Cunningham, an employment marketing representative with Job Service of Florida, knows how it feels to look for work. The bank he worked for in Miami closed two years ago, and Cunningham, now 51, started his own job search. He wasn't worried about finding another job, but quickly realized he would have to change careers.

It took him a year to land his job in the service's Hudson office. Having been through that experience, he said he tries to bolster the confidence of older people who come to the Job Service wanting to be hooked up with employers.

"A lot of them are not quite sure of their skills," he said. "After they've been through that first interview, they're okay."

Gretchen McKillop hasn't made it that far yet. She still is mulling over what kind of job she wants. At least now she feels certain she will be hired.

Mrs. McKillop, 55, of Bayonet Point, also took the AARP classes. Her situation is like Mrs. Cierpka's in that both of their husbands have retired. Mrs. Cierpka, however, worked throughout her marriage, holding part-time jobs while her children were in school. She left work only after her husband, Leon, 69, retired and they moved to Florida.

Conversely, Mrs. McKillop has not had a job for 35 years. She quit working soon after she and her husband, Don, now 58, got married.

"I didn't even know what the work force was like," she said, adding that a lot has changed in three decades.

The classes "gave me a lot of confidence in myself," Mrs. McKillop said.

When she was 18 and looking for work, resumes and cover letters weren't necessary, although now both are a must for the types of jobs in which she is interested. The AARP program taught her how to write a resume and a cover letter and put her through practice interviews.

Despite automation and the wide use of computers since she left work, Mrs. McKillop said, "people are still people," and dealing with them is one of her strong suits.

Cunningham of Job Service said he thinks older workers have good personal skills because they have more years of experience dealing with people. And those years, as far as AARP and CARES are concerned, make the difference.

Both groups point out that seniors generally make conscientious and reliable employees who seldom call in sick. They don't have to worry about finding babysitters or day care. Often, they provide good role models for younger employees.

Peggy Darragh, manager of CARES Hudson center, said AARP likely will offer the job-skills classes again through the Port Richey CARES facility after the first of the year.

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