Mature man at work © Lloyd Sutton, Alamy

Workers 55 and older are the fastest-growing part of the workforce, actively pursued and recruited by many companies, especially in customer service positions. But that doesn't mean it's easy for seniors to land jobs.

Talk to job hunters over the tender age of 55 and their stories of endless door-knocking can leave you both enraged and saddened. On average, it takes an older worker twice as long as a younger counterpart to land a job. Last year, the mean time that these baby boomers had to pound the pavement was 47 weeks.

"We have never seen these durations of unemployment in our history," said Andrew Sum, the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. "These are really huge."

But advocates for older workers like to point out the bright spots . . . and there are bright spots: Companies both big and small are reaching out to the senior set and adapting to their needs. Many companies shy away from publicly discussing even the positive attributes of any given demographic for fear they'll be accused of reverse discrimination.

Those that don't, however, say they'd like to promote some new stereotypes about mature workers. In doing so, they can be heard repeating terms like reliability, work ethic, customer service, emotional intelligence, loyalty and experience.

"We see productivity levels that are no lower for mature workers, and our retention rates are higher," said David Casey, the chief diversity officer for CVS Caremark, the huge pharmacy chain. "Once they get on the job, they tend to stay."

CVS Caremark is acutely aware, too, that many of its customers are aging. Nearly a quarter are older than 65. With older workers, "we see a strong connection to the customer," Casey said.

Keeping both senior workers and customers in mind, CVS has lowered the height of its shelves, increased store lighting, upgraded carpeting, made magnifying glasses available to shoppers and installed color coding to make it easier to find products.

At Home Depot, older workers are encouraged to apply their life experiences to their retail role, whether they have worked in the past as trade professionals or just acquired a lifetime of knowledge in years of homeownership and do-it-yourself projects.

In fact, customers often gravitate to these older, more experienced store associates, said Stephen Holmes, a Home Depot spokesman.

"They're the ones that people come in and ask for by name," he said.

Holmes even said one young store associate -- a qualified plumber flush with licenses – complained recently that customers wouldn't listen to him because he was only 26.

Older workers also are among the most reliable, Holmes said. Associate Ed Abrams has remained on the job at a Connecticut Home Depot for 20 years, ever since he was hired at age 72.

"We begged him to come work for us … because he had an entire career in the lighting industry," Holmes said via email. Holmes said Abrams was recruited by a neighbor who was the store manager.

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