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Companies seek older women workers

"It's becoming an asset to be older," says Lily Laub, vice-president of the Career Blazers Agency in Manhattan. "Yet many mature women who are returning to work, and those seeking employment for the first time, just can't believe it when we tell them the employers are increasingly seeking the dependability, steadiness, and mature judgment of older workers.

"Placing them is often a cinch and not difficult at all," she continues. "It has, in fact, become easier to place mature women than any others because employers are requesting them. They tell us that they have qualities and stick-to-it-iveness not always found in younger, more restive people."

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Many other agencies and services that place older workers report a distinct change in employer attitudes in the last three years. Preliminary questions, they say, have changed from "Is she pretty?" and "Is she young?" to "Can she do the job that we need doing?" and "Can we depend on her?"

Despite the fact that there are close to 25 million people over 65 in the US today, according to Census Bureau projections, and that the over-55 population will increase by more than 20 percent in the next decade, the job market for older workers continues to grow.

Numerous services and agencies have come into being to help older workers channel their skills. Some nonprofit employment centers are today being run by and for mature workers. And some companies are actually running classified ads for older people which read, "Retired? We need you."

Age discrimination may never disappear entirely, but older women workers are certainly finding a more positive and appreciative reception and are being valued in a new way. Which is good news at a time when rising inflation is sending many married women back into the labor market and impelling thousands of retired women to seek second careers.

John Blachfield, director of Westchester County Senior Personnel Employment Council in New York, a nonprofit job center, processes over 1,000 job applicants a year for accountants, bookkeepers, translators, teachers, school administrators, sales persons, and others. "We used to have trouble placing people over 60 in the big corporations that have moved to Westchester," he says, but now "those same corporations are calling and asking us for older workers, especially to fill their temporary and part-time jobs. Right now we have more jobs than people to fill them. And any woman applicant who has had a good working experience and a good record can be placed in a good office job."

Forty percent of this council's placements are in its "Paid Neighbor" program. Women are paid $3.50 an hour to go into homes of the elderly and convalescent to do what a good neighbor would do: shop, straighten up the house, visit. The "Paid Grandmothers" program has not been as successful, and many requests for older women to do child care are going unfilled.

Mature Temps Inc. is an employment service that offers temporary jobs to older workers. It has headquarters in New York and offices in 14 major cities, including Boston, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. According to its president, Richard Ross, "There is a shortage of skilled workers today in many areas of business and industry. Good secretaries and bookkeepers are in great demand, as are women who can operate various office machines. Many of the older women that we send out on temporary assignments are so extremely qualified and expert in their jobs, that they are often hired on a permanent basis. Many of our older women workers determine their own wages, and so value their own worth, that they will not work for less."

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Many employers are finding that nononsense older workers increase productivity and so are actually worth more. And they are willing to pay them more. Mr. Ross says most of their women temporary workers receive from $3.10 to reluctant to hire older women," he says, "are now asking for them and are far more interested in their qualities and abilities than in their age. We, too, have far more jobs available than people to fill them."

These statements are confirmed by Joseph Heeney, executive vice-president of the National Association of Temporary Services in Washington, D.C. Mr. Heeney says the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and the 1975 US Age Discrimination Act , with its 1978 amendment, have had enormous impact on the hiring of older women.

"Today," he says, "a woman's skills, qualities, and general job history are the only considerations of recommendation."

"For older women who are coming back into the work force, or entering it for the first time, this shortage should mean many excellent opportunities over the next five years," says this execitive. "Temporary services give women a chance to sharpen skills, work out a flexible work schedule, and break gently back into the business world."

Meanwhile, the word at Staff Builders, a New York service with 104 offices nation wide, is "Employment skies are brightening at last for the gray ing American. Fiftyplus workers are in great demand." So dramatically have mature workers demonstrated their value that in many areas they have overtaken the previously youth-oriented market, says vice-president Jere Rowland. His company specializes in supplemental staffing for business, industry, home, and institutional health care.

"More and more companies seek to fill assignments with mature employees," he says, "because they have come to appreciate the ability, responsibility, and dependability of the older worker. Mature secretaries, for example, are found to be the best-trained, the most conscientious and capable, and the most dedicated. Mature women who operate computers and sophisticated business machines are, their employers say, capable of great care and attention to detail , and have an impressive aptitude for figures."

Mr. Rowland says employers tell him that older workers have a zest for life, a zest for work, and a steadying influence that is sometimes missing in younger employees.

"Right now and for as far into the future as we can see," Mr. Rowland says, "we perceive the need for more workers in home care, a growing field for women who have spent their lives as homemakers, wives, and mothers." These women know the art of comfort and comforting, of managing a home, of cooking good meals and shopping -- the very skills that elderly and convalescent persons need and will pay for though a service.

Home care is a field that many homemakers who are now seeking outside employment tend to overlook, Mr. Rowland finds, but the satisfactions in it are many and the demand for workers will grow.

Robert Gaines, of Career Builders Inc., which specializes in permanent placements in engineering, architecture, and interior design, says, "We are placing experienced mature women in writing jobs now and we could place women architects, who had the skills needed for certain jobs, no matter what their age. And we can always place good women engineers, regardless of age."

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