Surrey program aims to get seniors back into workforce

SURREY — A program aimed at assisting seniors over the age of 55 find employment will soon begin at the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS) in Surrey.

PICS program director Satbir Cheema said there a number of seniors who may be facing life-changing decisions after losing their job and they can help. Some of those seniors may have extensive experience in one industry, upwards of 30 or 40 years, but lost their job for reasons beyond their control.

"Say somebody has worked in a mill, for example. They did very well. But what if that mill shuts down? There’s a skills gap staring at them and their expectations," said Cheema.

Those workers might be used to earning $40 an hour and to find themselves starting back at the bottom of the ladder in a new field close to minimum wage can be daunting, he added.

Cheema, who turned 55 this year himself, said seniors bring a wealth of life experience and work ethic that can be a benefit to any company. Some may have worked six or seven different jobs throughout their lifetime, which can be an invaluable resource.

"Anybody would love to have somebody who’s more loyal and going to be sticking around for the rest of their working life. If it’s three years, five years, they’ll stick around," he said.

Cheema said the downside with hiring younger people who are trying to build a career is the employer risks greater turnover.

But where PICS aims to help seniors is by improving their skills to fit the modern job market. Cheema said seniors can be disadvantaged because employers may believe it will take longer to train them.

"Since the world has evolved now a lot of things have changed. Technology has changed, especially with communication and social media. So youngsters have a great edge there," he said.

The program also aims to help those seniors who are recent immigrants. Cheema said many find the cultural change an intimidating additional barrier to entry into the job market.

The program, named Jobs Options BC: Urban Older Workers (55+) employment program, is seeking participants for its upcoming sessions starting Jan. 26. The course, funded in part by the federal and provincial governments, lasts five weeks and pays seniors $50 a day living allowance.

To qualify for the program you must live in Surrey, White Rock or Delta, be 55 years or older, unemployed, ineligible for Employment Insurance, not in school, a permanent resident or citizen of Canada and want to find a job.

PICS is located in Surrey at 205-12725 80th Ave. For more information contact K. C. Chau at 604-596-7722 ext. 117 or via email at kcchau@pics.bc.ca.

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