DOBSON — When Frances Druckrey lost her job as an offset print lithographer, she started delivering pizzas.
“I was a blue collar worker,” she said. “I wanted to learn office work.”
As an older worker, she found it tough to get a new start. Now, she is employed by the program that helped her make the leap to that office work job — and she’s joining Zoom conference calls and making flyers in an effort to help more people like herself.
Through those flyers, phone calls, emails and good old-fashioned boot leather, Druckrey is on the hunt for other unemployed Surry County residents age 55 and older who want to re-enter the workforce. With the Senior Community Service Employment Program, low-income seniors can get paid on-the-job training, career coaching and skills courses to help them land jobs in their existing careers or even start new ones.
“People think that once you hit 55 , you’re too old to do a job,” said Druckrey, 70, who now works as an Employment Specialist for the SCSEP. “They do not realize that not only do we have the experience that the youngsters don’t have, we have the work ethic.”
SCSEP in Surry County is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and administered locally by the Urban League of Winston-Salem. Often known for their work in the African American community, the mission of the Urban League is to help historically underserved groups, including older people.
Examples of career paths Surry County seniors can take through the program are clerical or data entry work, food service, maintenance, transportation, elder care or child care.
“The goal of the program is to enroll mature adults who are 55 and older to improve or gain new work skills,” said Celeste Gilreath, Director of Senior Program for the Winston-Salem Urban League. “They benefit from being assigned to a nonprofit or government agency for a minimum of 20 hours a week and are paid at the minimum wage, which is currently $7.75 per hour.”
Participants work one-on-one with an employment specialist like Druckrey to identify their desired career path and the skills and on-the-job experience they need to get there. Then, Druckrey lines up just the right kind of host job site that will help get a senior’s resume noticed by potential employers. They can also take free courses to acquire specialized skills such as in Microsoft Office software or for the culinary field.
There are currently 12 seniors participating in SCSEP in Surry County who are gaining paid work experience at the following employers: Jones Family Resource Center, Reeves Community Center, the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, Tri-County Crisis Ministry and the Winston-Salem Urban League.
The program has openings for five more Surry County seniors to enroll, and work experience sites will be tailored based on where they live in the county to make sure transportation is not a barrier.
Unemployment for all age groups has increased throughout the pandemic.
According to the N.C. Department of Commerce, the state’s seasonally adjusted December unemployment rate for all ages was 6.2 percent – up 2.6 percentage points from a year ago.
The most recent county-level data available showed Surry County’s unemployment rate at 5.2% in November, up from 4.0% in January 2020 before the pandemic started. According to that November data, Surry County had a total of 33,987 people in the eligible labor force, of whom 32,233 were employed and 1,754 people were unemployed. The data does not show how many of those unemployed are age 55 and older.
Older adults must meet income limitations to participate in SCSEP — a single senior must make $15,950 per year or less and a senior living in a two-person household must make $21,550 per year or less. Income earned from the program will not affect social security benefits. For more information, call Druckrey at 336-263-4535 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Michals may be reached at 336-448-4968 or follow her on Twitter @lisamichals3.