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How can chemist use their unique skills in new roles?

Encore Career Institute, which specializes in retraining older workers.

Steve Poizner is the CEO of the Encore Career Institute, which specializes in retraining older workers.

Just about everywhere you turn, people are arguing about jobs. And with good reason, because finding jobs for the unemployed is the most pressing issue we face today.

Almost every conversation about our job market however consists of a barrage of statistics and finger pointing, with no real world, practical solutions offered. It's time to talk tangible solutions.

Earlier this year, Tom Brokaw reported on NBC News that an unemployed male age 50 to 60 has only a 39 percent chance of finding a job again in today's job market. These are skilled workers, some with 30 to 40 years of knowledge in their field, who have slightly better than a 1-in-3 chance of ever finding employment. We need to improve these odds.

The good news is that it can be done - through education, technology and a little reinvention. All things that California does best.

It's seen every day in the work of the San Francisco nonprofit Civic Ventures, which has pioneered the concept of the "encore career." Civic Ventures highlights innovators like 50-year-old Mitchell Smith of Richmond, who spent years as an educator and as a salesman. Not long ago, Mitchell was laid off for the third time in two years.

That's when education, technology and reinvention came in. Mitchell recognized that green technology was an area of growth and immediately started retraining and repositioning himself. He attended a training program with a Bay Area solar energy group, followed by courses designed specifically for workers seeking encore careers in green jobs at a local college.

Mitchell qualified for his solar certification, got hired by the solar company he trained with and then created his own company, which just won a competitive bid to install solar panels on a large apartment complex in Oakland.

Mitchell changed the odds in his favor. With the Sherry Lansing Foundation and Creative Artists Agency, we have created the Encore Career Institute to help others follow a similar path to success, but on a much larger scale.

ECI uses the same concept: education, technology and reinvention. We have teamed up with adult-education leader UCLA Extension to package its curriculum into job-focused certificate training programs for those seeking a little reinvention. Using the best minds in Silicon Valley, we will offer those programs online, complete with social networking and multimedia technology.

But education needs to lead to real, available jobs. That requires workforce guidance both before and after training. It also requires a change in employer attitudes toward midlife candidates.

ECI will provide up-front assessment tests with access to guidance counselors detailing which sectors are hiring and what jobs applicants are best suited for. A virtual career resource center will guide and help network job seekers with potential employers.

Job seekers will be directed to growing sectors where age and wisdom are an advantage. Case in point: The older we get, the more we personally must navigate the medical system. So, who better to serve as health care managers than someone seasoned in handling the complex world of doctor visits, hospital care and prescription drugs?

But for every unemployed worker willing to reinvent himself or herself, there needs to be an employer willing to change their mind-set regarding those currently unemployed and also better help the ones he or she can no longer employ.

Even in Silicon Valley, where the technology industry is blossoming again, we still hear of layoffs by the thousands. CEOs here have the chance to break the mold. Instead of standard outplacement packages, why not provide encore career training?

We are in a jobs crisis now, but with education, technology and a little reinvention, there can be opportunity.

Steve Poizner, the CEO of the Encore Career Institute, is a former California insurance commissioner.

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