SHERIDAN - Jim Craig retired about eight years ago after working more than 30 years in the military and as a private practice lawyer.

Since then he's been involved in the Sheridan community, volunteering his time to several causes. But now the 67-year-old Craig is ready to work again.

"I find myself blessed with good health and excellent energy. I find myself tapped out on what I can do on a volunteer basis," Craig said. "It is just time."

Craig has been unable to find a position over the past year where he could lend his expertise and knowledge.

"The economy has changed so having a little additional income would be nice," he said. "My investment portfolio is not where it was a few years ago."

Craig is exactly the kind of worker that Sheridan's economic development corporation, Forward Sheridan, wants to help. Forward Sheridan is working with several state agencies, including the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, to try to develop a system that will match retired workers with local employers. The group is also working with the state AARP office.

"Our main objective is to find a clearing house to have an organized system so retirees can go somewhere and either talk with an employment consultant or go online to find employment," said Philippe Chino, CEO and President of Forward Sheridan. "On the other side, we want all the companies in Sheridan to know they can submit these jobs to one place where they can find retired workers, if they fit the job."

Work force solution

Like Craig, many retirees in the state would like to return to work. A national survey found that 80 percent of people over the age of 50 say they want to or need to work. Those numbers hold true in Wyoming, said AARP Wyoming Associate State Director Joanne Bowlby.

Bowlby said a survey of Wyoming businesses showed a desire to keep skilled and experienced workers in the work place.

And Chino said a Forward Sheridan task force named FUSE (Fully Utilizing Sheridan's Experience) found those same statistics in Sheridan.

"This is a way of recruiting within the community," Chino said of the group's efforts.

Chino said Forward Sheridan, the Department of Workforce Services and AARP Wyoming have yet to establish a system for matching employees with employers. The groups are currently meeting separately to come up with solutions, and will meet together in January.

But Chino said the three departments "are in sync" and said answers to issues such as Social Security benefits and age discrimination will be addressed as part of the project. By April, Chino said he hopes to see a system established.

While the Department of Workforce Services already has a work force database,">, Chino said the community needs an established place or database for retirees to find work and employers to find skilled workers. Since some older adults do not know how to use the Internet, or are not comfortable using it, Chino said he thinks it is important for them to receive individual attention.

"What we need here is a clearinghouse," Chino said. "These folks would like to go to one place and look at someone that's dedicated to them."

Sheridan is not the only area in the state that needs to recruit and retain experience workers, and the program being developed in Sheridan could become a model for other Wyoming communities.

"We see this as maybe a pilot community for us to eventually expand into other communities," said Rob Black of the Department of Workforce Services.

Untapped resource

By 2030, it is predicted Wyoming will have more people age 65 and older than those under 18 years, with more than one in every four residents over the age of 65. But Black said many retirees do want to work, even if it's not in a traditional way.

Many older workers are looking for a less strenuous job than the ones they previously had - and many say that salary is not as important as flexible hours and staying active physically and socially.

"They've done the high pressure, high stakes," Black said. "They just want to do something that contributes to society."

In Wyoming's competitive job market, finding employees with reliable work habits, loyalty, experience and stability is an immense challenge for employers. Part of the solution may be older workers, Black said.

"When you have a work force issue, you have to look under every rock," Black said. "Retirees are an untapped resource."

Older workers possess knowledge and skills and are ready and willing to work if given an opportunity that fits their lifestyle, Black said. In fact, what attracts and retains younger workers is similar to that what is attractive to older workers: a respectful environment, clear communications and opportunity for development.

"What is good for older workers is good for all workers," Black said.

Craig would like to be hired by a non-profit or community-related business. In the meantime, he's continuing to volunteer and is not discouraged by the job hunting process. Eventually, he said he thinks businesses will see the importance and benefit of hiring older workers.

For now, he's keeping busy, including lending his time as the northern Wyoming director for Toys for Tots and with FUSE, hoping to help find a solution for not only himself, but all of Sheridan's retirees who wish to return to work.

"This could be an economical way of looking at the work force," he said.

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