August "Chuck" Johnnie earned his living as a car mechanic for many years in Juneau. When he retired from that profession, he worked at Kmart and then Costco, where he enjoyed working with customers and being part of a retail sales team.
But after two surgeries in the past two years, Johnnie's doctor told him the standing required for his Costco job was no longer an option. So Johnnie had to get a new job, one that would require a minimum amount of physical exertion.
And that required new training - something Johnnie couldn't have gotten on his own.
Enter Mature Alaskans Seeking Skills Training, a program operated by the Southeast Regional Resource Center.
"Basically we seek people out who are 55 and older who are looking for work and need some additional training," said Nancy Duhaime, who coordinates the program.
Mature Alaskans Seeking Skills Training, or MASST, pays Alaska residents 55 and older who meet certain income requirements a minimum wage stipend to work 20 hours a week in nonprofit agencies or state offices.
In the agencies, the workers learn new skills and make connections they hope will lead to a full-time job outside of the program, Duhaime said.
"We want to get them caught up with the 21st century way of getting a job," she said. "So much job search happens on the Internet these days, so you lose out if you're not able to look at the jobs there."
Most of the training for seniors involves computer use and clerical skills, said Jeff Kemp, assistant coordinator for the Alaska Division of Senior and Disabilities Services, which granted the funds to SERRC to administer the program.
"It's kind of a self-paced type of deal," Kemp said. "If someone is interested in computers, we try to find out if they really have the aptitude for it, then we put them in a community service position where they can learn computers."
The benefit to the agencies that accept the senior trainees is that most of the workers already possess highly valuable work skills that can't be taught in a job-training program, Kemp said.
"The seniors are for the most part reliable, they have credibility, they have integrity, they show up for work and their absentee rates are low," said Kemp. "It's just a treasure trove of people that are going unnoticed and unused."
Chuck Johnnie contacted Duhaime at SERRC and she placed him as a trainee in information technology with the state. He learned how to use the Centrex telephone directory for the state and soon became a part-time state employee.
"My supervisor says I came to work here with a head full of knowledge," Johnnie said. His knowledge has grown with the MASST program to include an understanding of Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint.
The MASST program is funded through the Older Americans Act, passed by Congress in 1965. Two years ago, the state decided to change the name to emphasize training, Kemp said.
"In the past people who were using the program were on it for years," he said. "Now we're turning a corner where people are using the program for a set amount of time and getting off."
Seniors are limited to 11 months in the MASST program, said Duhaime. During that time, enrollees usually learn enough about resumes, job searches and computers to find a regular job.
For Johnnie, the program was exactly what the doctor ordered.
"I work 4 1/2 hours a day - basically what the doctor said I could do," he said. "I love it. I can stand up and do my work here, sit, talk to people and interact with people all over the state and the country."
For more information about the MASST program, contact Nancy Duhaime at 586-5718.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.