The unemployment rate is at its lowest in 17 years. It’s all good, right? Well, partly.

If I called your HR department and offered an experienced worker who has an understanding of your industry, a management and project leadership background, and immediate availability — would you hire the person?

We’re told daily that Metro Detroit is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years. But those numbers only tell part of the story. We’re also hearing that companies in Detroit and across the country are having a difficult time finding enough qualified people to fill available positions. They are overlooking a valuable segment of the workforce who’s ready to work now.

Last year alone, employment specialists at JVS assisted more than 2,500 job seekers. Many of them are long-term unemployed (job seekers who have been actively looking for work for over six months), and they are not only ready to work NOW, they have been ready.

Our experience mirrors national statistics that show a clear correlation between age and long-term unemployment. Half of the job seekers we serve are long-term unemployed people over age 50 with more than 20 years’ experience.

Many mature workers have been left on the sidelines because employers assume that hiring younger people is cheaper. But is it really? Post-recession, mature workers may be in a position to make salary concessions if it means becoming a valued member of a team and being able to contribute to a company’s success. A large percentage of these mature long-term unemployed have taken classes, like those offered through JVS, or volunteered with nonprofits to keep relevant while they’ve been unemployed. Often requiring less training than their younger counterparts, they are ready to be productive on Day One.

“Employers can gain tremendous benefit from the ‘boomer work ethic,’ ” says Karen Gutman, JVS director of career services. “This is a group of people who, because of their stage in life, generally experience less down time due to family and personal commitments. They no longer have child-rearing responsibilities, they’re loyal (read: less turnover) and they show up to work on time.”

We, as a community, need to shift our views on “how old is too old” to remain engaged, productive and valued in the workplace. Let’s not automatically write off mature workers or place them in the “department store greeter” box. Hire them. Let them show you what they can do.

Leah Rosenbaum

president and CEO of JVS

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