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Experience for Hire: Filling the Gap in Michigan’s Talent Shortage

July 27, 2021

By Mark Hornbeck, originally featured in SBAM’s FOCUS magazine

About four years ago, AARP Michigan and a few heavyweight partners launched an ambitious program aimed at matching seasoned adult workers with tough-to-fill jobs across the state.

The proposition was win-win: Find work for the growing number of experienced Michiganders interested in supplemental income (or those looking for a way to stay busy) and provide a valuable talent source for employers desperately trying to find workers for 100,000 long-standing job openings.

Thus “Experience for Hire” was born. Experience for Hire was the brainchild of AARP Michigan President Chris Holman, who saw the program as a short-term solution for talent shortages across the state. The founder and CEO of Michigan Business had noted the talent acquisition issue several years ago in his annual survey of hundreds of businesses: “Talent and finding qualified employees moved to the top of the list of business concerns,” Holman said. And it remains the number one issue for businesses today.

Right out of the gate, the Experience for Hire program had the support of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Michigan WORKS!, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Small Business Association of Michigan, and many others.

Experience for Hire began with five pilot events in four Michigan counties—Wayne, Macomb, Kent and Ingham—and the pilots reported success: 525 job seekers and 56 employers participated. Initial reports indicated that 74 people were hired on the spot or shortly afterward.

Even before the pilots launched, a survey of AARP members showed adults 50 and over were highly interested in returning to work in their areas of expertise, part-time or full time, with flexible hours. Many were seasoned workers with unique skill sets that could help businesses fill job openings, at least until other workforce development programs could catch up.

Studies have shown employers see workers age 55 and over as slightly more motivated and engaged than younger employees. They stay in jobs longer and take fewer days off; they have a strong work ethic and can serve as mentors; they prove that the best teams are multigenerational; and they bring expert-level skills and experience to the workplace.

Jon Platt, 72, of Lansing, is among the experienced workers who have benefited from the program. He stopped by the Capital Area event three years ago. He was hired on the spot by a restaurant and is still working there, doing early morning preparation work.

“I just went to the program to see what it was all about,” he said. “I was looking for some spending money. So, AARP helped put me back to work after I had been retired for 14 years.”

Christine Pawlak of Holland was also one of the early beneficiaries of Experience for Hire. At age 67, she found she left the workforce a little too early.

“I still have energy, and something to contribute,” she said at the time. “And it wouldn’t be bad to make a little extra money.”

Pawlak got weary of sending out resumes and receiving no replies, so in 2018 she stopped by Experience for Hire in Grand Rapids to meet with several employers who indicated they were open to hiring older adults.

“I thought I’d jump the line and talk to a real person,” Pawlak said.

“Experience for Hire presents an exciting opportunity for more Michigan employers to realize the growing new potential that workers age 50 and over bring to the workforce and the economy,” said Paula Cunningham, State Director of AARP Michigan. “Our ability to live longer, healthier, more productive lives is one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Aging is about growth.” Like so many activities in Michigan, though, the COVID pandemic shut down the in-person program in 2020. But as the state gradually returns to normalcy, Experience for Hire is preparing for a comeback and hopes to hold a virtual event with Capital Area Michigan Works! later this year.

“COVID has slowed the process, but we expect to move forward,” said Cunningham. “There’s no question the needs that sparked this program four years ago are still present today.”

Mark Hornbeck is the AARP Michigan Associate State Director for Communications.

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