BRATTLEBORO - Vermont Associates is a privately owned, non-profit organization that trains people who are 55 years and older in new, improved job skills.
"We focus on re-training to get them back into the workplace," Training Manager Mary Branagan said.
Vermont Associates for Training and Development, Inc. has two main federal grants from the Department of Labor to fund its programs: The Senior Community Service Employment Program and the Aging Worker Initiative.
The SCSEP has income restrictions on the participants -- they must be more than 55 years old, a Vermont resident and unemployed -- and are paid while being trained in updated skills. The AWI has no income restrictions on the participants, but they must also be more than 55 years old and a Vermont resident.
Vermont Associates pays for their classes and helps them in their job search, with employer communication and to update their resumes.
To apply to Vermont Associates, the first step is an unofficial interview.
"Most applicants don't have the computer skills to apply online," said Branagan. "We talk to them for 20 minutes or so about their background and work history."
After the interview, participants are scheduled to come in to a local office for an official interview.
Vermont Associates works with participants on their computer skills, but much more than that.
"We do research to train people to do jobs that actually exist," Branagan said.
These are skills that are not only appropriate for the age group of participants, but are jobs that are always in demand, said Branagan.
"Typically the applicant is eager to get back into the workforce, likes learning, likes exploring new skills, and needs help," she said. "They have been unemployed for a while for various reasons, such as being laid off or having outdated skills. They need updated skills to be competitive again."
In this technological age it is important for the participants to be able to learn new skills that they would not have had the opportunity to learn when they initially entered the work force, said Branagan.
Vermont Associates has connections with organizations in the area such as Northeast Family Institute, Falls Area Community TV, Newfane Town Clerk, RSVP, Strolling of the Heffers, The Commons, Turning Point of Windham County, and Experienced Goods.
"We have monthly meetings for participants and they get to chat about how the job search is coming, employers come and speak about openings in their jobs, give general job search tips, and participants who have recently left and gotten jobs come and speak to the current participants about their experience," Branagan said.
These monthly meetings are not only informative, but allow the participants to see successful people who had gone through the program they are in," she said.
"Participants can see a real life example of someone who has succeeded."
Currently, there are about 25 participants in the Brattleboro branch of Vermont Associates and around 220 participants statewide.
"We have a very high success rate," Branagan said. In fact, 60 percent of participants leave because they have gained employment.
"There are 18 organizations nationally that administer the Senior Community Service Employment Program and we have one of the highest exit rates for employment," Branagan said.
"We place a heavy emphasis on employment and helping people get jobs. That is our main goal: a sustainable job, a job with longevity. We train them to do their jobs well into their 70s or 80s. Our oldest participant is 94 years old and doing great."
Branagan said there is a lot of negativity about the job market today.
"This is a place where people can come and feel optimistic again."
Carleen Busick will be a senior at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the fall. She is a summer intern with the Reformer and lives in Wardsboro.
Editor's note: This story has been modified from the version that appeared in print to reflect several corrections.