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SWKAAA looks to help bring seniors back into workforce
Program helps connect job seekers with area employers
GB Senior Center OKEP meeting
Bob Lininger, Director of the SouthWest Kansas Area Agency on Agency’s Older Kansans Employment Program, meets with Lee Sohm of Holyrood Thursday at the Great Bend Senior, helping Sohm locate a job as he looks to get back into the workforce. Lininger will be in Great Bend at the Senior Center each Thursday in February from 10-11 a.m. meeting with older job seekers. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

Bob Lininger with the SouthWest Kansas Area Agency on Aging (SWKAAA) came to Great Bend Thursday hoping to help connect local seniors with the right job for them.

Lininger is the Director of SWKAAA’s Older Kansans Employment Program, a program funded through the Kansas Department of Commerce, designed to assist individuals 55 years and older looking to get back into the workforce in finding a employment.

The program, which has been in existence since 1993, serves all 28 counties in the agency’s southwest Kansas service area, which extends from Barton County west to the Colorado border and south to the Oklahoma border. While the program is available by phone throughout the service area, Lininger holds in-person “Employment Opportunity Meetings” in Great Bend, Dodge City and Garden City.

The meetings serve as an opportunity for SWKAAA representatives to connect face-to-face with area seniors in a one-on-one setting. The goal is to get to know the job seeker, what their interests are, and what type of employment they are seeking. The visit allows Lininger help the job seeker find the best fits for them.

As part of the process, job seekers will fill out a short application the agency keeps on file in the event there are not any current openings to fit the job seeker.

Another part of Lininger’s work is to meet with employers in the communities he serves to help build a list of jobs which might be good fits for older workers. Along with that, he also monitors different job search websites, as well as area Workforce Centers, to help him build a comprehensive list of available positions. 

Also, though, he hopes to be an advocate for older workers, as well, because he feels what older workers bring to the table is beneficial to employers.

With many older workers having decades of previous experience in the workforce, he said, employers can be confident they will get a worker with a strong work ethic and proven productivity and dependability.

“(Older workers) know how to follow through on jobs,” he said.

Program documentation also sites flexible schedules and the opportunity to mentor younger workers as benefits older workers provide potential employers.

However, he feels a lot of preconceptions and misconceptions exist with employers who might be hesitant in hiring older workers, such as how long the worker will stay and whether the older worker might be overqualified for a particular position. 

Dispelling a lot these and other hesitations is a goal for Lininger, who took the director’s position last month after holding it for 15 years in a previous stint. As he seeks to bring the program back to Great Bend, he hopes to find a permanent representative in the Great Bend area to serve as the in-person connection point between job seekers and area employers.

COVID-19, however, has presented a particularly difficult challenge to the OKEP program, with many older citizens in vulnerable populations choosing to stay home in response to the virus.

He hopes, though, that as vaccine and recovery efforts begin to take hold, more seniors will begin to be more comfortable getting back out in the workforce.

“We want to promote the fact that there are opportunities out there, and that we as a program have some resources to be able to help them,” Lininger said. 

Some of these resources include help with resume preparation, with interviewing skills, with available job search tools and more. All of these things are available in packets job seekers receive when they meet with the OKEP representative.

The face-to-face interaction, and the opportunity to meet with the job seeker and get to know them, is the most important tool they have.

Lininger will be at the Great Bend Senior Center, 2005 Kansas Ave., every Thursday in February from 10-11 a.m. For more information on the OKEP program or local Employment Opportunity Meetings, Lininger can be reached at 620-225-8230.