Jobs Issue

Recruiting Retirees

As unemployment rates remain low and the Flathead Valley struggles to fill its workforce, local leaders have collaborated to bring retirees back into the workforce

By Maggie Dresser
Mikel Parrish, a semi-retired IT consultant in his home office in Kalispell on March 23, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Throughout the two decades that Mike Parrish served in the military and the 16 years he spent as the IT director at Flathead Electric Cooperative in Kalispell, he worked diligently to save his money and prepare for retirement.

In January of 2021, Parrish finally reached the goal that he was working toward his whole life and retired at age 65.

“I had never thought about doing anything other than retiring,” Parrish said. “You plan for it, you save for it – I was just ready. I soon found out that while I was ready financially, I really wasn’t ready.”

After Parrish retired two years ago from his IT position, he turned fitness into his new job. He sometimes spent six hours per day walking, cycling or playing pickleball.

Parrish kept himself busy exercising, going to his summer cabin west of Kalispell with his wife and solving puzzles at his house, but he started missing things he didn’t expect. He missed social interactions with colleagues at work and he didn’t have anything to challenge his brain anymore.

“I was unchallenged,” Parrish said. “I used my mind through my whole career and life just got too easy. I still needed some problems to solve.”

About a year after Parrish retired, he chose to come out of retirement, launching a consulting business called Nonprofit Tech Services, which he runs out of his home office.

Parrish helps local nonprofits in the valley with tech work, and he partners with My Glacier Village, an organization that supports seniors and helps engage them in the community. Before he started the business, he was attending meetings with the nonprofit, and he eventually decided to open his own consulting business.

Jenn Prunty, founder of My Glacier Village, encourages retirees to re-join the workforce. In a collaboration with the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC), WorkForce Flathead and Job Service Kalispell, local leaders have formed the Retiree Workforce Group to bring older generations back into the workforce.

“Sixty-five-year-olds are not ready to be put out to pasture,” Prunty said. “A lot of people are going back to school, opening their own businesses or volunteering.”

Prunty said many retirees are re-entering the workforce to become consultants in their field or work parttime jobs with low responsibility, like hosting at a restaurant or working in retail.

At the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, Workforce and Special Initiatives Director Jenn Cronk said business leaders are trying to bring retirees back into the workforce to help fill job openings in a tight labor market.

In February, Montana’s unemployment rate was 2.4%.

“We were all really looking at the same workforce challenges and ways we could help make a difference for the community and businesses,” Cronk said. “It’s a newer focus and especially with the low unemployment rate, we’re trying to see how we can engage any potential workers in the community.”

With a rising cost of living and financial pressure caused by inflation, Cronk said some retirees are returning to work to earn extra money.

Laura Gardner, the manager atJob Service Kalispell, said she learned some retirees are worried about reentering the workforce after the organization conducted a survey last year.

“Some are needing that additional income,” Gardner said. “One of the retirees broke down in tears because they were scared to get back into the workforce and work with the younger generations.”

From the employer’s perspective, the workforce group say business owners are eager to hire retirees because they bring a strong work ethic and expertise. A wide variety of industries are willing to hire the retiree workforce, but Gardner said it’s important for employers to be flexible with hours since most are not interested in a 40-hour workweek.

“All industries are hurting for a workforce right now,” Gardner said. “I would say pretty much all of them are willing to look at the retiree workforce … They bring so many good attributes to the workforce. They’re hard workers, they show up on time and they have a good work ethic. They bring a lot to the table for employers.”

Mikel Parrish, a semi-retired IT consultant, and bicycle repair enthusiast, in his garage in Kalispell on March 23, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

For Parrish, he’s able to stimulate his mind more now that he’s returned to the workforce. He works about 20 hours a week and his semi-retirement has allowed him to pursue a passion for bicycle mechanics after he finished an intensive course at the United Bicycle Institute in Oregon.

Although he no longer works for Flathead Electric Cooperative, his former employer hired him to help with occasional tech work and now he works for his former colleague who he hired.

“I mentored him, and he mentored me for all those years,” Parrish said. “He helped me understand the younger generation and things that weren’t really important to me that are so important to younger people, like work-life balance. I understand that it’s an important thing and he helped me become a better leader.”

The Retiree Workforce Group will host a brunch at the First Presbyterian Church in Kalispell from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on April 5 to provide information about returning to the workforce.

To register, visit https://bit.ly/retireebrunch (406) 250-8784.

A book on the home office desk of Mikel Parrish, an IT consultant and bicycle repair enthusiast in Kalispell on March 23, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon