11/02/2013 05:20 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Job hunt posing big challenges for people over 50

For decades they punched the clock, brought home good paycheques, saved and planned for retirement. But now thousands of older workers across Canada are finding themselves on unemployment lines.

Layoffs, the recession and the decline of the manufacturing sector have shattered their dreams of a comfortable and early retirement. These days, finding a job when you’re over 50 poses big, and sometimes insurmountable, challenges.

In Kitchener, Ont., the unemployment rate for workers over 50 now sits at 7.3 per cent — almost double what it was a year ago. The region has seen major layoffs in high-tech industries, including major local employer Blackberry. Several major factories that offered high-paying jobs have closed in recent years.

Many of those laid-off workers are now part of a special program at The Working Centre, a multiservice agency in downtown Kitchener. The Targeted Initiative for Older Workers – TIOW - offers specialized job search help for workers such as Joseph Bach, who lost his job as a technical writer after 25 years.

“The people I’ve been talking to, they just seem to be looking for younger workers,” he said. “On the phone they were ecstatic; they couldn’t wait to get me in for an interview. When I walked through the door you could almost see the looks on their faces, ‘Oh, he’s old.’ My in-person interview didn’t even last 15 minutes and I was out the door.”

Bach, 62, is married with three children. Since losing his job he has faced bankruptcy. His wife now works two jobs and he’s been filling in a few hours a week in a grocery store for minimum wage – all in an attempt to pay the bills and pay off debt.

“I honestly expected to be retired by the time I hit 62,” he said. “My plan right now is hopefully to retire by the time I’m 95, it’s just not going to happen I think.”

More than 200 people have taken the TIOW program at the Kitchener Working Centre in the past year; about two-thirds have managed to land jobs. The program offers specific strategies for older workers. They include: don’t mention your age, play down your years of experience and play up your enthusiasm; search out companies that have hired older workers by checking their website for photos for employees with grey hair; sit in their parking lots and quiz those workers about their jobs they finish up their day.

For many, it’s counter-intuitive and a hard sell. After all experience is supposed to count. But in an age when computers, not people, sift through hundreds of applications for a single job, it’s important older workers target their resumes and include keywords, said Debbie Lowes, an employment counsellor with the TIOW program.

“They come with so much experience, you hear their background and you think how could they not be working?” she said. “They suffer from self-esteem and  real money matters and family matters as well … so there’s a lot going on. It’s not just the job search; it’s the feelings that come with it.”

On The Sunday Edition on Nov. 3, Maureen Brosnahan talks to three of those workers along with the counsellors and others in the TIOW program. Listen here to her documentary, Freedom 95, in the link at the top of this page or on The Sunday Edition's website.