MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA–On a planet where the inhabitants have become too quick to discard useful things, one woman in Monterey, California is attempting to create a recycling program that she believes could help change the way business owners view their workforce.
More important, Pat Sherlock Coniglio, 71, is hoping her concept–an employment agency designed exclusively for people 55 and older–helps the way older generations of our population view themselves.
Grandmother to 13, Pat launched the Nu-Age Employment on California’s central coast in September 2013 after she saw a local community filled with people much like herself–educated, energetic, skilled in multiple disciplines, and in need of regular income to supplement often-paltry Social Security benefits. Using a computer, a telephone, and five decades of work experience, she launched the new business from her home office, planning to devote four hours of each workday to finding part-time or full-time jobs for people like herself. Employers pay her a one-time fee of 12 percent of the worker’s salary (or $50 a week for a temp), which is lower than the standard 15-20 percent. Pat’s job-hunting clients don’t pay a penny. For them, her services are absolutely free.
Even better, what business owners are likely to get is an enthusiastic employee who will happily work two or three days a week, a few hours each day, for perhaps $10-$12 an hour, drawing upon a lifetime of work experience. Most won’t need medical benefits. And they come from a generation that embraces an old-school work ethic: A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
“We’re talking about some very well-versed people,” Pat says. “A lot of them are sitting home, watching television. They’re bored. They’re lonely. They’re on a fixed income. They want to get out of the house and back into circulation, and don’t know how to do it. That’s where I come in.”
Despite all these plusses, what Pat quickly had to face is a hard reality that she had naively doubted. “As much as I didn’t want to believe it, there is such a thing as age prejudice,” she explains. “I’ve sent a lot of people to interviews who are absolutely perfect for the job, and they don’t get the job. I’ve discovered that employers are worried that my clients will have issues with sickness and ailments. They feel like older people are slow. They’re concerned that they aren’t up to date on computer skills. In the case of most of the clients I’m sending out, the exact opposite is true.
“I’d say about two out of ten employers have been receptive,” she adds. “Those two embrace what I’m doing wholeheartedly–they’ll go for my clients over anybody else–but they’re surprisingly hard to find.”
Pat knows the industry well. After working as a legal secretary, in 1983 she opened the Pat Coniglio Personnel Agency, an employment service she operated in Monterey County for 25 years. She gave up that business in 2008 for health reasons, but, as she began to feel better, she realized how much she missed working, and that she still felt useful. And she quickly realized she was not the only one feeling that way.
Within days of her official launch, Pat had files filled with resumes from Monterey County applicants who, not so long ago, had fulfilling careers. Some desperately needed supplemental income; others simply want to keep working.
“I’ve actually encountered quite a few people who currently have high-paying jobs, but they’ve registered with me because they just don’t want to work that hard anymore,” she says. “At the same time, they don’t want to retire and sit on the sofa. They want to stay active, stay connected, and stay in public.”
Pat’s services don’t begin and end with the job-interview connection. She also helps every client, many of whom haven’t applied for a job in decades, prepare for success. She’ll work with them on their resumes, and role-play the interview process, preparing these clients to ask impressive questions of their own. She’ll even help them pick out a proper wardrobe.
“I’ve driven clients to the hairdresser. I’ve taken them to pick out the outfit they’re going to wear, or even given them some of my clothes,” she says. “I teach them how to act and what to say during the interview, and encourage them to always send a thank-you note afterward, because employers appreciate that.”
It’s a job Pat loves. For her, helping her clients job-hunt is rewarding, even exhilarating, especially when a coveted job is finally landed. With so many skilled people job-hunting in a poor economy, though, employers can pick and choose from a talented, diverse pool of applicants for any opening. It’s a much different climate than the one that existed when she founded her own agency.
“I’ve sent four different clients to interview recently at a local business that needs a receptionist,” Pat says. “It’s just a part-time position, it’s not real demanding, and the money isn’t so great, but they’ve already interviewed more than thirty people for the job, and they’re still interviewing. They’re being very picky and choosy, and, in this job market, they can be.”
Contact with potential employers is also more difficult as well. Where she once had a personal relationship with a higher-up in almost every significant company in the area, Pat says the vast majority of modern-day employers communicate nowadays almost exclusively through email. But she says stays positive and warms to the challenge every morning, because she owes it to her clientele. For her, Nu-Age Employment is as much a cause as it is a business.
“Throughout the process, my clients hear from me, because there’s nothing more demeaning–especially to the age bracket I represent–than to go through all of that, put your best foot forward, then not hear anything,” Pat says. “When you sit around with nothing to do, your self-esteem goes down. These are people who have spent their entire lives gaining wisdom, judgment, work skills, and life skills that shouldn’t go to waste when they get older.
“That’s not the way life should be,” she adds. “They deserve the option to continue to contribute. Our society owes them that much.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Pat Coniglio can be contacted at 831-372-7159 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.