02/19/2013 02:03 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2013

When Experience Isn't a Good Thing

Out of a training class of 39 students, Alan stood out.

Maybe it was the suit, the glasses, the neatly shaved head, the air of professionalism that made Alan -- not his real name -- look like he was a representative from one of the partnering financial institutions of JVS' BankWork$™, i.e. a banker, rather than a newly-minted graduate who was trying to land a "first step" job in the financial industry as a bank teller.

And, indeed, Alan may be fresh out of BankWork$™, but he's hardly new to the job market. A three-year stint in the U.S. Army (he was honorably discharged with a good conduct medal) was followed by employment at Trader Joe's and, most recently, at Lowes where he worked as a commercial salesman.

During his interviews with JVS' partner banks who help fund the training program, Alan was encouraged to apply for positions that were a step above an entry-level teller, such as a mortgage banker position. For an opening at one particular bank, he knows he's competing with at least 24 other applicants.

"I try to do the best I can and just stay positive," he says, "To get into the military, I went to a recruiter. When I got back, I looked for a job close to home. I walked in, met the manager and they hired me on the spot, " he explained. "With Lowes, it was a phone call and getting an application in that evening, having the interview and being hired the next day. I've never been through a process like this before, but I figure it's part of the process."

Alan is 49. "I've probably got 25 good years left in me at least," he says -- and he means working years.

That kind of upbeat attitude is a necessity. If the current unemployment numbers and job prospects aren't enough to hurtle a mature job seeker into depression, reading Catherine Rampell's article for the New York Times, "In Hard Economy for All Ages, Older Isn't Better... It's Brutal" certainly will. Particularly for job seekers who are anywhere near the demographic -- ages 50 to 60s, the population that the article refers to as "Generation Squeeze."

"These Americans in their 50s and early 60s -- those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security -- have lost the most earnings power of any age group, with their household incomes 10 percent below what they made when the recovery began three years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company," Rampell writes.

Equally depressing: New research from economists at Wellesley College have found that those who lose their job within three years of becoming eligible for Social Security and Medicare have their life expectancy reduced by three years.

Of course the clients who come into JVS WorkSource Centers aren't thinking about the daunting statistics. They want to get back to work. Candis Noel, a JVS case worker and career counselor who often works with mature workers eligible for National Emergency Grant (NEG) funds, says these clients know what kinds of barriers they face.

"I let them bring the subject up when we talk about barriers to employment and they get to it pretty quickly," says Noel "They'll say, 'I'm over 50 or I'm 60. I'm not young anymore, but I'm teachable.' The first couple of meetings can be pretty emotional."

Several of Noel's recent clients have been downsized out of employment when companies such as Hilton, Borders, MySpace and the U.S. Census Bureau either cut back, shifted their base of operation or went out of business altogether. After having been employed for several years, many newly laid off mature workers often feel like they have had the rug pulled out from under their feet. No longer seeing themselves as wage earners, people who have paid their bills and mortgages for years, laid off mature workers now have unwelcome time on their hands. They don't want their careers to end and in many cases, retirement really isn't an option.

Noel sees these clients, people like Wendy, age 58, who had worked for Hilton for 16 years, in a variety of jobs that required skills in booking, sales, training and website troubleshooting. Ultimately reaching the position of manager, Wendy was laid off after the company was purchased and moved its corporate offices to Virginia.

Wendy has experience in banking which she no longer puts on her resume. She learned many of her skills on the job rather than via formal training.

"I told myself that I could easily get a temp job, but I can't even get one of those. I got very depressed," says Wendy who has been unemployed since May of 2011. "I think it's very unfair. Companies won't give a chance to people like me. They want people who are already working."

According to Noel, because it's been so long since they have job-hunted, quite frequently her clients have no concept of how to plan a job search, including writing a new, marketable resume, kicking networking into high gear and learning how to negotiate social media sites like LinkedIn.

She connects her clients to whatever support services and resources they need, from workshops on interview skills to subsidized training programs.

To her mature clients, Noel is part strategist, part sounding board, part booster. "I totally understand what they're going through, the shock of it all," she says. "I try to have compassion.

"When they come in, they feel a connection with you because finally there's someone who will listen to them," she says. "There's embarrassment and shame and tears. I tell them, 'If you have to cry, go ahead and do it. You're human. You're human, and this is major, but you'll be able to get through this.'"