Experience Works offers new pursuits to older Americans

May 22, 2009

Tim Pratt -


STARKVILLE -- Norbin McCollum Jr. was an employee of Southwire Co. in Starkville for more than 18 years. 


But in 2006, at the age of 62, McCollum says he lost his job and had no other means of income. 


"Like many others, because of foreign trade and such, they had to cut the workforce down," McCollum said. "I got a severance package, but that didn''t go very far. So I knew there had to be something else I could get into." 


Luckily for McCollum, now 65, a friend told him about Experience Works -- a nationwide organization, with offices in Columbus and Starkville, which places citizens 55 and older in on-the-job training programs. Experience Works then helps participants find gainful employment. 


McCollum these days is going through on-the-job training with social services organization Prairie Opportunity in Starkville and hopes to find a new job in the not-too-distant future. 


"The economics of it played a great deal in my decision (to join Experience Works)," McCollum said. "I remember a time when you could retire and have a bit of security. Now, the way I feel, there''s actually no retirement at all." 


Mangle Shanks, the Experience Works field operations coordinator who works in Columbus and Starkville, said more and more older workers are looking for jobs these days as the economy continues to sputter. And local companies have opportunities available for seniors, she said. 


"It''s just a matter of knocking on doors and finding out who has jobs available," she said. 


Shanks this week honored several of her fellow Experience Works employees, who have been helping people like McCollum find training and jobs throughout the region, as part of Older Americans Month, which continues through the end of May. McCollum was at the group''s celebration at the Experience Works office Wednesday on South Lafayette Street in Starkville. 


"We''re recognizing their continued contribution to the workforce," Shanks said. 






Experience Works only offers on-the-job training programs at nonprofit organizations and government entities, where participants develop skills to help them find jobs later. 


The Experience Works organization pays minimum wage to those seniors for up to 20 hours a week with funds provided by the U.S. Department of labor, so the host agency doesn''t incur any cost. The organization then tries to find jobs for those seniors when the training program is complete, although some end up getting hired at the agencies where they trained.  


The length of the training programs vary, Shanks said. 


Experience Works formed in 1965 under the name "Green Thumb." The group originally was designed to help retired, low-income farmers supplement their income by working in their communities. 


Eventually, Green Thumb evolved into Experience Works and has spread to all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The senior community service employment program has remained the organization''s most popular as more than 23,000 seniors nationwide have used the service. 


The organization is always taking applications from seniors interested in the program, Shanks said, and from non-profits and government agencies looking for part-time help. 


For more information on Experience Works, contact the Starkville office at 662-324-9005, or the Columbus office at 662-328-2477. Visit the organization on the Web at www.experienceworks.org.