OWLforce program helps mature workers find jobs

Employment agency offers training in computer use, social skills

Katherine MacFarlane (left) and Chris Rankin (right) show the collection of owls given to them by graduates of the Older Wiser Labour Force program.
Katherine MacFarlane (left) and Chris Rankin show a collection of owls given to them by graduates of the OWLForce program.   Regina Peters

Dave Brown, 54, worked as a supply technician for the same company for 32 years. When he was laid off, he says, “due to downsizing,” he decided to get help finding a new job.

He went to Job Junction Employment Agency, who directed him to their Older Wiser Labour Force program (OWLforce). OWLforce is geared toward job seekers between the ages of 45 and 64, although older people can still apply.

“It’s beneficial,” says Brown of the program. “It helps you learn to grow.”

The seven-week, free program is made up of small workshop classes of about 13 people. It includes courses on computer use and resume development, but also less tangible things like assertiveness, stress management, how to identify personal strengths as a worker and how to dress professionally. In order to apply, a candidate must be referred by a case manager at Job Junction.

The need for this type of program reflects a growing trend. A 2011 Statistics Canada survey found that almost one out of five workers in Canada were 55 or older. This age group accounted for about 19 per cent of the workforce, compared to 15 per cent in 2006.

“A lot of people have gone through job loss,” says program co-ordinator Chris Rankin. “Job security is not as common as it used to be; sometimes the workers have health issues, sometimes they’re immigrants, sometimes they’re caregivers for sick family members.”

Some just need a career change.

Jeannie Filler, 70, had been a teacher until she decided to “do something easy that (she) would enjoy,” such as reading to hospital patients.

She says the most important thing she learned from OWLforce is to research potential employers to make sure they are the right fit.

“I just realized, my God, I am rusty,” she says. “You can’t just walk in off the street with a resume; you gotta do your homework.”

Facilitator Katherine MacFarlane says that “technology is the biggest gap” between mature workers and their career goals, citing Microsoft Office as an example.

Rankin agrees.

“It’s amazing how you can start with someone who’s never turned a laptop on and they’re doing Excel spreadsheets in a day,” says Rankin.

Founded in 2010 and sponsored by People Plus, Inc., the OWLforce program has an 82 per cent success rate, says Rankin.

There are three followup “OWL Cafe” events every year, so former participants can update each other on their experiences.

“Sometimes OWLs hire OWLs; it’s really cool,” says Rankin.

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