New Tools, Same Self-Taught Spirit: Sharon’s Story

Some people have a knack for figuring things out. They can take something completely apart, look at its components, diagnose the problem, and put it back together as good as new. They’re problem solvers, and they are not afraid of what they don’t know because, with enough time and understanding, they will figure it out. And in many cases, they are older adults.

Meet Sharon

At 22 years old, New York native Sharon enlisted as an Army National Guardsman just two months before the end of the Vietnam War. She completed her base training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and then moved onto advanced individual training (AIT) in policework at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

Sharon trained alongside the full active army in military policing. She learned how to handle the tactical and mental challenges of war including jungle warfare, booby traps, handling weapons from grenades to tear gas and machine guns. She trained in swamp marches at night as flash bombs went off in the air above her.

“We trained just like the men because we had to know our lives were just as much in jeopardy as any male in the unit,” said Sharon. “I came through my military experience in one piece and with my full mental faculties intact. It taught me a very strong appreciation for life and responsibility to our fellow man.”

Though Sharon decided not to pursue a career in the police force after her military training, she did take away some valuable lessons that shaped her career and attitude towards life afterwards.

“I learned to not take anything for granted and a discipline for organization and sticking with something to completion,” said Sharon. “There’s never been such a thing as I can’t do this. Stick with whatever you’re doing, and you will succeed and something good will come out of it.”

Along with her military service, Sharon is also a college graduate. She graduated from the University of Toledo in the 1970s with majors in retail sales management and the children’s theater for the deaf and blind. She found it difficult for women to break into management opportunities during this time and started on a very diverse career path.

Sharon became the first female delivery truck driver for Lance Transportation, delivering vending machines across Ohio. Then, she self-taught her way into repairing pinball machines and arcade game repairs.

When the game repair company closed in the early 1980s, she decided to put herself through nursing school, working five different jobs seven days a week from working in a steel mill to being a housekeeper.

“I know what it’s like to start from the very bottom and work for what I want,” said Sharon. “I’m not afraid of hard work and there’s no job that is beneath me. I do whatever it is from the heart, and I do what’s right.”

Experience with technology

Sharon worked as a home health aide for over 20 years, but two herniated discs ended that career. Her career history exposed her to technology, but it was industry-specific, and those skills only applied to the jobs she was doing at the time.

Sharon notes that she had a difficult time finding employment because of where she lived in Portage County, OH.

“You need one to two years of hands-on experience to secure a permanent position,” explained Sharon. “I could not get my foot in the door.” Sharon even expanded her experience by volunteering with a mental health organization.

Despite facing some barriers on her employment journey, Sharon has not given up and remains positive in this chapter.

“I’m not angry and I’ve never given up my dream,” said Sharon. “I’ve taken all the good things that I’ve learned and the people I’ve met and consider it a very positive and successful experience. I’m not disappointed because if I was really meant to be someplace, a door would have opened then. A door opened for me at Vantage Aging to explore more about what my skills are, what I can do, and where I am really needed.”

Finding Vantage Aging

By the time she found herself at Vantage Aging as a job seeker in the Senior Community Service Employment Program, she’d developed a love for learning how to repair things. You can sometimes find Sharon at an auto yard where she takes a hands-on, self-taught approach to learn how things work. She brings her curiosity and organizational skills to Vantage’s SCSEP program.

Sharon had been looking for work for six months when she came to Vantage Aging as a job seeker. During this time, she was working on improving her resume, practicing interviewing, and participating in a job club at the Ohio Means Jobs center.

The OMJ center connected Sharon with Vantage’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, where she could use a hands-on approach to gaining the skills she needed for success. Funded by the Department of Labor and Ohio Department of Aging, SCSEP provides paid, hands-on training to job seekers age 55 and older who are trying to re-enter the workforce.

Vantage provides the SCSEP program in 38 Ohio counties to hundreds of older job seekers each year. By empowering older adults with the skills and confidence they need to reach their career goals, the program contributes to healthier local economies and more independent, self-sufficient community members across the state.

Digital Inclusion training

As a SCSEP job seeker, Sharon had the opportunity to participate in Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program.

The Digital Inclusion program improves digital access and computer competencies of older Ohioans through access to digital devices and personalized, one-on-one coaching sessions from trained digital navigators in partnership with the Ohio Department of Aging.

Digital training modules provide a basic skill set that helps older job seekers be more competitive in today’s market. Some of the skill-tested certifications available include Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), Google Docs, navigating the internet, email etiquette, career searching, and social media. With this digital training as their foundation, job seekers can confidently practice their new skills at their training sites and prepare themselves for employment in the modern workforce. By including these skill-tested certifications on their resume, job seekers demonstrate to potential employers that they have digital aptitude and that they’re committed to lifelong learning.

Before the program, Sharon owned a very old, outdated laptop and did not have access to a hotspot.

Through the Digital Inclusion Program, Sharon now has access to a new laptop, equipped with current features such as Word, and a hotspot. She receives a single device perpetual Microsoft Office license.

“The Digital Inclusion program is a fabulous experience,” said Sharon. “It’s an excellent basis to keep reaching toward my goals. I am ready to go on further and continue taking classes.”

Each job seeker in the Digital Inclusion program is assigned a Digital Navigator to work with one on one. The Digital Navigator is there to clarify lessons as job seekers complete them, as well as help build the confidence of job seekers who may not be comfortable using technology.

With access to digital devices and individual coaching, job seekers like Sharon are prepared to reach their career goals and fill much-needed roles in our workforce. Sharon encourages older adults to participate in programs like Vantage’s Digital Inclusion and continue learning.

“Don’t be afraid of computers or to take courses like Digital Inclusion,” said Sharon. “None of us learned to walk before we crawled. If you want to be successful at anything you do in life, take a chance. You never know where education is going to take you.”

What’s next for Sharon?

Sharon’s goal for the future is to help others reach their full potential in roles that are fulfilling and improve their quality of life. She would like to do this through employment services, such as creating resumes, cover letters, and reference sheets, and job coaching.

“I’m able to look at a job description and know how to word a resume to get an employer’s attention,” said Sharon. “There is a huge need for help making resumes really talk for job seekers of all ages, and I love doing that.”

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